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					                                      Records Keeper




       The name on my letter of introduction is Anne Newell. I've no notion who Anne

Newell is, but I am most certainly not she. I suppose it doesn't really matter. If it is Anne

Newell they want, then it is Anne Newell they shall get. My name hardly matters any

more. They could refer to me as "her" for all I care.

       I lean back in my seat as the carriage rumbles onward. It's a nice carriage, with

cushioned seats and a retractable roof- and I am very grateful for the latter, for it has been

raining for hours- but the road is rough and the ride is unpleasant. I hope that we will

soon reach the school, and lean my head out the window, craning my neck to see the

driver and horses, ignoring the rain splattering onto my hair. Ahead I see nothing but the

rain, the road, and always the bush. Its presence is ceaseless. I sigh and settle back into

my seat, keeping my attention directed outside. Despite the damp, I'm grateful for the

lack of glass in the window. I've a terror of small, enclosed places, and without the open

space I would be quite frightened.

       Suddenly the carriage jerks to a stop, throwing me forward in my seat. I yelp and

catch myself, clinging to the door for support. At the fore of the carriage, the horses are

making a fuss. They sound panicked, and I wonder what's happened.

       "Sir?" I call to the driver. "Sir?"

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       There is no response. He hasn't heard me over the neighing of the horses.

       I peek my head out the window again, but a heavy mist has suddenly descended
and I can see nothing. I suppose I must get out. Gathering my skirts around me, I open

the door and step out. The muddy road sucks at my feet; the rain spatters against my

scalp and leaves dark patches on my dress. It's just as well. The lace was probably

already quite ruined in this damp, and I've other dresses.

       One of my shoes pulls off of my foot with a nasty little noise and disappears in

the mud. Ugh. I liked this pair, too. I kick off the other, as I certainly cannot go walking

about with one shoe.

       "Sir," I say again as I reach the driver's side. He's gotten down from his seat and

is trying to soothe the horses, who rear and kick wildly, shaking their heads back and

forth and screaming in obvious terror. "Sir, what's going on?"

       "'s nothing, miss," the man assures me, tugging on the harness of one of the

horses. "'orses jus' panicked. Dunno why. You'd best get back in the carriage now, miss.

In't safe out 'ere. Don't you worry. I'll get the 'orses calmed down right quick."

       I nod, though he can't see it. There are hundreds of things that could have

frightened the horses, I suppose. The creatures tend to spook easily, especially this far

out in the bushlands- it could have been the wind, or the dark, a rat or some such

scurrying across the road. I grimace at that last thought and turn to get back in, but

something catches my eye at the side of the road.

       A girl is standing by the road, staring at me. My heart jumps uneasily, but I don't

know why. Somehow, she doesn't seem real. Her eyes are too wide. The whites show

all

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around, gleaming sickly in the darkness. She watches me for a moment, then turns and
disappears into the bush.

       "Miss?" I jump at the driver's voice behind me, and turn. He is still by the

horses, but suddenly they're calm again, standing placidly in the downpour. The driver

scratches his head, frowning at me as though I hold the key to the horses' odd behavior.

"What're you doing, miss? 's dangerous out 'ere, I said. You'd best bet back in now.

Lotsa animals out 'ere. Vicious buggers, begging your pardon."

       "I- there's someone in the bush," I stammer, shaken. I could call him to task for

his foul language, but I choose to ignore it. "A girl."

       He stares at me blankly. "Miss?" he says, uncertain. "Miss, you sure? 'S

probably nothin', miss. The mist plays tricks on your mind, like. You should get back in

the carriage, miss."

       The mist?

       He's right. Who would be out here? I must have imagined it.

       "Yes," I agree. "You're right. I imagined it. Yes." I shake myself. It's ridiculous

of me to think someone was standing out here, walking around in the wilderness. I don't

believe it myself. No wonder he is looking at me like that. No doubt he thinks me quite

mad. I pull myself together. "Shall we go, then?" He nods and climbs back into his seat

as I walk back around to the door and clamber inside the carriage. I left the door open,

and now the seat is wet. Well, this dress is already ruined. I am simply not looking

forward to going the rest of the way in a flooded seat.

       What a lovely trip this is turning out to be.

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                                            ~~~
       True darkness has fallen by the time we arrive at Merriweather School for Girls.

Merriweather, indeed- the weather here is hideous. I suppose it must be named after the

founder. I shall feel quite silly referring to anyone as "Mistress Merriweather." How

repugnant.

       The building itself, as far as I can see through the gloom, is lovely, a dark curve of

wood and brick illuminated by lanterns hanging on either side of the door. It appears to

be single-level, though how large it is I cannot tell. On every side, the bushlands creep

in, encroaching the level of civilization offered by the school building.

       What on earth could possess anyone to build a girl's school out here? Perhaps

everyone here is like me, an orphan, unwanted by my relatives, shoved off to a place no

one will mind me much. It's ridiculous that I am sent here now. I am almost of

marriageable age, and could make quite an advantageous match. However, it is beyond

my control. If this is my fate, I will resign myself to it with grace proper in a young lady.

       Of course, my entrance could be far more graceful. I am muddy and somewhat

disheveled, with my hair falling from its pinnings and my dress splattered with foul

water, and all this is without a mention of my disgraceful bare feet- and I have come

without a chaperone, accompanied only by a male driver. They will probably think me

entirely without morals.

       Now if only I could bring myself to care.

       The driver unloads my trunk hastily, nearly dropping it as I look on. He

practically throws them to the doorstep and escorts me do the door with such an

eagerness

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to get away that it is almost rude. What has happened to him? I knock, then turn to

watch him go. To my astonishment, all that is left for me to see is the rain and the fog.

How quickly he has left! He must be worried that the roads will flood and he will be

stuck. It's a reasonable fear, I suppose.

       I turn back to the door and wait. Minutes pass, and there is no response, no sound

but the persistent rain. I knock again; this time there is a muffled crash from within, and

a piercing shriek. I jump back, shocked, and nearly slip. Before I can do anything else,

the door is flung open by a girl with dark hair and a frantic expression. I blink at her, my

mouth agape.

       "Yes, miss?" the girl says, voice shrill. I allow myself to take in her appearance

aside from her strained expression. Now that I look, she's clearly a servant. Plain, drab

dress, apron, dark flat shoes. Clothes coated with ash.

       "I'm-" I pause, remember the name on the paper, and hand over the letter. "Anne

Newell." I don't really know why I am going along with the mistake. Perhaps I'm just

tired of who I really am. No one wants the real me- obviously, if my relatives have sent

me into the wilderness with nothing to rely on but a letter with the wrong name on it- so

perhaps Anne Newell will have more luck.

       The servant girl accepts the missive with shaking hands, probably more out of

reflex than anything. She stares boldly into my face, dark eyes searching mine, and then

her gaze flicks over my shoulder. Back to my face. Over my shoulder again,

apprehensive. I stare at her, confused. What on earth is she looking at? I turn to see, but

there is nothing. Just the rain. How odd. I hope not everyone here is so strange.

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         "Come in," she says, actually grabbing my arm and pulling me inside.

         "My- my bag-" I begin, astonished by this display.

         She pauses, then reaches out to grab the trunk and drag it inside. She shoves it

away and slams the door, pulling the heavy lock across.

         It is hardly warmer inside the school than it was outside in the rain, and there are

only a few lanterns to alleviate the gloom. I realize that I am dripping muddy water onto

the floor. It puddles around my feet, scheming to stain the wood with damp.

         "I'm so sorry," I say to the girl, who still seems preoccupied by the lock. "I'm

dripping all over the floor. Do you have a-"

         "Verity? Who is this?" Startled by the voice from behind me, I turn. A woman

stands framed by the glow of the lamps, her looped hair sending off shafts of golden light

in the darkness. From what I can see properly of her face, her expression is stern.

Though she looks young, she cannot possibly be of school age. Perhaps this is Mistress

Merriweather.

         The servant girl- I can only assume that she is Verity- scurries past me to hand the

woman my letter, bowing her head nervously and dipping into a respectful curtsy.

         "Anne Newell, ma'am," she squeaks as the woman opens the letter and appraises

it with- I think- raised brows. "The new student. From England."

         From England indeed. I've lived in Australia my entire life. What on earth did

they put in that letter? I hope no one asks me about London, or I'll have to lie myself

silly.

         "Really," the woman says, raising her eyes from the paper to examine me. I

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cringe inwardly, knowing how dreadful I look. Were it not for the expense, she should

probably expel me at once. "Well. Welcome to Merriweather School, Miss Newell. I

am Mistress Merriweather. I should let you know, Miss Newell, that this sort of thing,"

her eyes swept again over the ruins of my hair, my muddy and torn dress, and my bare

feet, "is absolutely not accepted here. I myself am from England, and I know for a fact

that this is not how the British raise their daughters. Verity will show you your room.

Goodnight, Miss Newell." It seems that I am dismissed. I hesitate for a moment,

wondering if she expects anything else from me, then pick up my trunk- for obviously no

one is going to help me with it- and follow Verity down the hall.

       It's still very dark, and I stub my toe against a corner I didn't see in the gloom.

We don't come across any other girls on the way, and I wonder in the back of my mind

where they could be. The majority of my thoughts, however, are on remembering where

I am. There are so many turns, I fear I'll never find my way out.

       "Will I have a roommate?" I ask.

       "Yes." Verity's reply is terse to the point of rudeness.

       Silence.

       This doesn't seem to be going very well.

       I sigh and trudge along, giving up on remembering my tracks. I can barely see

anything, so I might as well wait to try and figure out where I am until there is some

light. Why should they keep it so dark in here? It's ridiculous.

       By the time we finally arrive, I am thoroughly aggravated. Is everyone here rude,

is every corridor narrow and winding, and does every corner have to be so sharp?

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       Assuming Verity hasn’t lied to me and I do actually have a roommate, she isn’t

here at the moment, so when Verity leaves me, saying that the other girls are finishing

supper and, as I have arrived so late, I shall simply have to go to bed and see everyone in

the morning, I am alone. I sigh, and drag my trunk along to sit next to one of the beds-

there are two in the room, both narrow and uncomfortable-looking, clad in lumpy sheets

whose color immediately brings to mind cold porridge. I choose the one nearer to the

window, as a candle adorns the nightstand by the other, so it presumably belongs to my

absent roommate.

       With the luck I seem to have, she’ll probably be as awful as everyone else.

       Ah, well, I think as I change into my nightgown and attempt futilely to make the

mattress comfortable enough to sleep on. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

                                           ~~~

       The coffin lid flips open, sending a rush of cool fresh air against my face and

sharp light into my eyes. I scrabble to sit up, wincing when my torn fingertips scrape

against the wood. My muscles scream at me as the tension on them is released after- how

long trapped in there? Free air burns in my throat, raw from screaming. I feel blinded

after so long in the dark. Everything is too bright. The world seems to be shaking,

though that's probably me. Though keeping my eyes open in the sudden light hurts, I

can't bring myself to blink. I thought I would never see the light again.

       A quiet whimper draws my attention, but it's hard to turn my head to look. I have

to turn by inches, every move a jolt of pain arcing up from my throat. Rebecca stands by

the table on which the coffin is mounted, hunched over and trembling, with wild eyes

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and, in her hand, the key. The sight of her strikes unexpected joy- I may not have

thought her comely the first time I saw her, but right now she's my rescuing angel and the

most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Propriety be damned; right now I could kiss her.

        If I could move properly, I would probably do it, too.

        As it is, I only stare at her. She makes a terrified noise in her throat and opens her

mouth, head nodding jerkily up and down so quickly it looks as though she's having a fit.

Her throat works, but nothing comes out for a moment. Then she says, "Th-th-the o-

others are d-down at sup-upper. Mi-Mistress Merriweather s-sent me t-t-to let you ou-

out.”

        I nod in response, certain that trying to speak at the moment would not be a good

idea.

        “I br-brought you water,” Rebecca continues meekly, holding out a flask I think

I’ve seen Verity holding. I take it and yank off the lid with my teeth, motioning for her to

move out of the way so I can vacate the coffin. “She t-told me not to, but I th-thought

you might need it-i-it.”

        I hand back the flask, drained, and clamber out of the coffin and off the table,

staggering as locked muscles resist. Rebecca catches onto my arm, and I attempt a

grateful smile, though I doubt any expression I could pull off at this moment is going to

be very pleasant. It seems to convey the message, though, because she flashes a brief

smile in return.

        Clearing my throat- and wincing at the hot pain this brings despite the water- I

reach up to touch my hair. What’s left of it, that is. Merriweather chopped it all off. The

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woman is a psychopath. Who authorized her to run a school for girls? At least I don’t

have to wonder anymore why she had the place built out here.

       “Does,” I make a face at my raspy voice, “does she do this all the time? Lock

people up in there?”

       Rebecca swallows hard, turning, for some reason, a dull red. “Y-yes. She says

that it’s the b-best way to punish dis-disobedient girls.”

       “Does she lock you in there?” Somehow I doubt Rebecca could survive it.

       “No.” An ashamed look crosses her face and sticks. She looks down. “When I

was li-little, the doctor sa-said that I have a weak, weak heart. Mistress does-doesn’t

want to get ca-caught again.”

       Oh. “Again?”

       “Sh-she was a governess in England, and, and a girl she was p-punishing bit off

her to-tongue. That’s wh-why she moved here.”

       Lovely. That explains why she hates me so much in particular- she thinks I’m

from England.

       “I kn-know because I’m from En-England, and, and my mo-mother read about it

in the pa-papers.” She swallows again, and I remember that her mother has since died.

Relatives who don’t know must have sent her here, and she probably didn’t object for

fear of insulting them or some such ridiculous thing. The poor silly creature.

       “Wonderful. We’re locked up with a madwoman.”

       Rebecca looks horrified and turns quickly to the door, and then back. “Sssh!

Don’t s-say such things! Sh-she’ll be angry!”

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       “Let her.” She’s shaking again but I only raise my eyebrows at her. Damned if

I'm going to let a crazy person beat me in one attempt, no matter how gruesome. She

bites her lip and looks away again. “Wh-what did you do?” she asks in a quiet voice, still

looking in the other direction.

       I scowl. “My hair fell loose. Apparently it was shockingly indecent.”

       “Mmmh. We should g-go.” She looks back at me. “I h-have to give the book an-

and the fl-flask back to Verity, and I-I'm supposed to take you back to ou-our room.”

       So Verity is in on her little disobedience. As I follow Rebecca out of the room

and down one of the hallways (it's still difficult for me to find my way around), I feel a

rush of new respect for the girl, considering the implications of her actions as a servant.

If Merriweather could get away with what she did to her charges, it isn't hard to imagine

how much worse she could do to those in her employ. In the week since my arrival, my

impression of Verity has changed drastically. She seemed so rough to me at first, but

now her behavior is almost ridiculously subservient- not toward me in particular, but

everyone in general. I can certainly understand why she would be afraid, but why was

her behavior so different the day I arrived?

       "Rebecca," I ask, considering, "was someone punished just before I came?"

       She flinches visibly at the words. "Please," she says, voice strained, "b-be quiet.

I d-don't want anyone to h-hear." I fall silent, and so does she, but after a moment she

answers my question in muted tones. "Nearly," she murmurs. "One of the servants dis-

disappeared during the ni-night. Sh-she screamed that she was going to p-punish

everyon-one until some-someone told her wh-where the g-girl went. V-Verity started cr-

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crying, said that it was the q-quinkan. That the g-girl was ta-taken in her sl-sleep. M-

Mistress was v-very angry, but V-Verity ran, and th-then you were kn-knocking." Her

voice quiets further, so that I have to strain to hear. "M-Mistress said that she was going

to take th-the girl out of the re-records, so no one would kn-know about the dis-disgrace.

We're no-not allowed to say her na-name anymore."

       She seems to be finished explaining. "What is the quinkan?" I ask, not having

cared to interrupt her halting speech until I'd gotten the whole story. Rebecca flinches

again at the question, and swallows hard- I can even see the movement from the back.

       "Evil sp-spirits of the bu-bushland," she whispers, voice cracking. "They ta-take

people's bodies in the da-dark and e-e-eat their souls."

       I sigh. That would be an Aboriginal legend, I suppose; I've always been told not

to mind silly superstitions like that. But I have no choice other than to let it stand.

Rebecca is clearly to afraid of such things to think rationally about them, and it's best not

to upset her. All things considered I've been very lucky in having her as a roommate.

Only think- I could have had Cecily, or Peggy Sue. They're dreadful girls, the lot of

them. Rebecca seems to be the only kind one of the lot, even if her stuttering does get

aggravating after speaking with her for two minutes. I say no more on the topic, and

hope that things will have returned to normal tomorrow.

                                            ~~~

       Lea is gone. She was so quiet, I hardly noticed her presence in the first place; she

was another of the servant girls, one of a group which had once numbered three. The

first girl had disappeared, and now Lea. Only Verity is left, and apparently that throws

her
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under great suspicion. Merriweather drags her into the coffin, forcing poor Rebecca to

help while the rest of us look on. I want to help, but the last time this happened- to

Eileen, three days ago, when she screamed upon seeing some sort of bug- I tried to

intervene, and Merriweather threatened to throw Rebecca herself inside, nevermind her

weak heart. Apparently the evil old cow has recognized my attachment to Rebecca, who

has these past two months become my dear friend and confidante. I love her very much,

and Merriweather must realize that hurting Rebecca would be a worse punishment for me

than locking me in the coffin myself.

       Verity doesn't scream, only sobs quietly, her wails muffled by the lid and the

thick velvet curtains over the breathing-holes. Rebecca, too, is crying quietly, to my left,

but I don't dare draw attention her way by comforting her. After an interminable,

miserable period Merriweather deigns to let Verity out, and has Peggy Sue and me hold

her arms while she is interrogated. It is clear that she knows nothing, but Merriweather

insists, striking her across the face several times and pulling at her hair, but poor Verity

only continues to sob and insist that the quinkan took her.

       We are eventually allowed to leave, sent to our separate rooms, and I practically

drag Rebecca off. Verity is left weeping on the floor. There is nothing to be done for

her.

       I pull the door shut quickly behind us, then whirl and stalk to the window, staring

hard out into the gloom as though looking for Lea myself, before pacing back to where

Rebecca has collapsed onto her bed. After a moment of mute staring, I sit down beside

her, caught between fury at Merriweather and disgust with myself for doing nothing to
stop what she is doing.

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       Certainly I have a reason to stand by- I cannot risk Rebecca- but my inaction

smacks of betrayal in my own mind. In standing by I allow Merriweather's treatment of

the girls to continue, and I can't help but feel that I should be doing something.

       After a moment I reach down and pull Rebecca toward me, embracing her

carefully, as though she might break from the sobs wracking her thin frame. I murmur

meaningless words of comfort into her hair, and wait for her to calm down.

       "I w-wish th-there was someth-thing we could d-do for p-p-p-poor Verity," she

says once the worst of the tears have subsided. From anyone else's lips the words would

sound trite, but I can tell that Rebecca speaks them sincerely. "I h-hate it here! I w-want

to go h-h-home." This brings on a fresh wave of hysterics. I don't know the details, but

apparently she lost her family in a fire of some sort. It can't be pleasant to remember.

       "Sssh," I say, helpless to do much else. "It will be all right, you'll see. I'll find a

way for us to leave, I promise, and then we can go to the police and they will take

Merriweather away and have her locked up forever. Or, even better, they will hang her.

Surely they won't let her run loose like this. And..... and we'll find some way to support

ourselves," I promise, improvising, "and we'll go to England and have a lovely estate in

the country. It will be grand. We'll have a garden and a stable, and it will be lovely.

We'll take a train there, won't that be exciting?"

       Rebecca is silent for a moment, and then says, almost harshly, "Don't s-say such

things, Anne. You k-know as well as I-I that we can-can't get aw-away from Mistress."

       I frown. "Rebecca, come. Please don't speak so, we will leave."
        She is silent again. Then she says, "Tell me about the estate." Relieved, I smile

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and launch into a minute description of exactly what it will be like. Some time later I

realize that she has fallen asleep leaning against me. She is not wearing her nightgown,

but I don't want to wake her; she has exhausted herself crying, and she has other dresses

she can wear to avoid being punished for mussing this one. I simply settle her as best I

can on her bed and cross the room to stand by the window again, staring out. It is only

middle afternoon, and light still filters down through the foliage.

        Struck by a sudden impulse, I open the window and, glancing behind me, gather

my skirts and scramble out. Once standing outside, I run a hand over my hair, still

choppy and short after its brutal trimming and only partially hidden under the small hat I

have affixed to it. I sigh heavily. I used to love my hair, and miss it dearly now that it is

gone. Still on impulse, I drop my hand and life the hem of my dress to trot into the bush,

trying to avoid being caught on the low-lying foliage. It is darker amongst the trees, so I

don't venture far, but after a little way I reach a clearing and start: red liquid oozes down

the sides of the trees surrounding me, looking for a moment very much like blood and

scaring me silly before I recognize the weeping eucalyptus trees. The first time I saw

them, when I was young, I had been so frightened that I had nightmares for a week. My

nanny told me once that the trees drip like that because they are actually trapped souls,

crying for release, but once I grew a little and knew better I realized this to be nonsense.

It isn't blood on their barks, only sap.

        Nonetheless they are certainly unnerving, standing silently covered in the thick

scarlet of their lifeblood. I stare at them a moment longer, then swallow and continue on.
I don't much like the trees, but it would be ridiculous to allow the sight of them to stop

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me in my wanderings. I follow the gaps between the trees, so wide along the route I take

that the place seems almost a deliberate path. As I walk I look around, up, to the sides, so

distracting myself that I nearly fall into the lake when I come to it and only notice when I

hear the splash as I step unheedingly in. My makeshift path leads directly into it. I

stagger back, shocked, and then stare in real confusion at the water. Though I am sure

that I heard a splash, and my foot is wet, the water is completely smooth. Not a single

ripple interrupts its calm, and it stares glass-like up at the trees.

        In my suddenly aware state, I realize that it is dead silent, and completely still.

Not a sound, not a movement, not a rustling of leaves disturbs the eerie stillness, and the

air seems suddenly heavy. I am abruptly gripped by the urgent desire to leave, but I can't

seem to move. Panic swamps me and I struggle against myself as against bonds. A

sudden shouting from behind me makes me scream in turn. Freed from my inexplicable

freeze, I turn and run back the way I came as the yelling continues. After a moment I

recognize the voice and the words.

        "Anne! Anne!" Verity. I claw my way out of the trees and find her standing

beside my window. She screams herself when she sees me, her hands flying to her

mouth, and she stands still for a moment as I approach before bursting suddenly to life.

She surges forward and catches onto me, staring pleadingly up at my face. "Anne," she

says, hoarse and breathless, "Anne, where have you been? You've been gone so long-"

Have I? I realize that it is nearly dark. I must have been gone for hours without noticing.

        "Anne," Verity gasps again, "She's put Rebecca in the coffin."
       With almost an audible crash, all thought screeches to a halt. I shove Verity

                     Allegra Condiotte      (1-941) 346-2986       Records Keeper            17

roughly to the side and throw myself back through the window, not caring when I rip my

dress on the sill, and only tear my way through, hurtling down the hall. If I could I would

have broken down the door to the room containing the coffin; as it is I smash it open so

violently that it cracks against the wall when it swings back. The girls, minus Verity and

Rebecca, are clutching at each other and making a great noise, but somehow I cannot

hear them at all, and barely even see them. My eyes are fixed on Merriweather, standing

over the open coffin with an impassive expression. She doesn't even react when I push

her aside.

       Rebecca stares up at me from the coffin, eyes wide and staring, glassy with terror.

Her mouth is ajar, and blood boils sluggishly from the corner.

       "Rebecca," I breathe. The entire world is shuddering around me with a horrible

screeching noise. "Rebecca. Rebecca!"

       "Her heart must have burst," Merriweather says blithely from somewhere in the

distance. I thought I could not hear anything but the screeching, but I hear that. I can't

react, only staring at Rebecca's face.

       "It is your fault."

       My head snaps around, almost of its own accord, and my stare fixes itself onto

Merriweather's unconcerned face.

       "What did you say?" My lips form the words, but no sound comes out.

       "It is your fault," she repeats nonetheless. "I only put her in because you left,

Miss Newell. You are the one who killed her."
       "Take it back." This is audible, and I am shouting. "Take it back!" I fling myself

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at her, intent on killing her with my bare hands, but she sidesteps me easily, snatching my

hair where it has grown back a little and yanking hard enough to pull some out along with

a patch of my scalp; I scream and try to wrench away, but only manage to do worse

damage to myself.

       "Verity," Merriweather says sharply. I twist around, gasping, and see Verity

standing horrified in the doorway. Her gaze flickers from the coffin to me before sliding

reluctantly to Merriweather. "Remove the body at once. Take it outside and dispose of

it. Girls, Rebecca Pierce shall be struck from the records. I do not want to hear any of

you mention her ever again. She never existed."

       "No!" I scream, fighting anew to get at her, though she only pulls at my head so

that I am practically bent over backwards. This position makes it hard to breathe, much

less to speak, and I watch almost upside-down as Verity, aided by Jane after a snapped

order from Merriweather, pulls Rebecca out of the coffin and drags her out of the room

and out of my sight.

                                          ~~~

       "Tell me where," I order in the harshest voice I can manage in a whisper, shaking

Verity savagely by the shoulders. "Tell me where you left her!"

       "I-in the woods," she squeaks, eyes wide and frightened. I glare at her, angry that

she stammered. I will only tolerate Rebecca's stutter.

       "Where exactly?" I demand.

       "I don't know! I don't know, please, I don't know!" In her fear, she has allowed
her voice to rise almost dangerously. I clap a hand over her mouth and glance around to

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make sure no one has heard. I have Verity cornered in the dark hall, and everyone is

asleep. I can't risk waking them, especially Merriweather, but I have to know what

happened to Rebecca. I can't bring myself to think of her as a body.

        "Then you'll have to show me." Despite her muffled frantic sounds, I drag her to

the kitchen, where I know there is an exit I can easily unlock; I do so and pull her outside.

She hesitates when I let her go, as though considering whether or not to scream for help,

and I grab her arm.

        "Go!" I snarl in her face, and, reluctantly, she turns and leads the way, stumbling

a little in the dark. She only barely muffles a scream when, only a little way into the

trees, she practically trips over the body she herself left leaning against a tree, half

covered in leaves. Rebecca's empty eyes gleam blank at me as I crouch down in front of

her. I stifle something as it comes up my throat, sure that I cannot afford to feel whatever

it is, and reach out to gently close her eyes and wipe what I can see of the blood on her

face away with my sleeve. I can feel Verity shaking behind me, jumping at every little

sound as though she were afraid a quinkan would leap out at her from behind a tree at any

moment.

        "Help me lift her," I order, getting to my feet. Verity stares at me for a moment,

then begins to shake her head rapidly.

        "No," she whispers. "No, don't make me, please, please don't make me!"

        "Do it now," I snap. She obeys, and between us we manage to carry Rebecca

under my direction. For some reason I am inclined to find the lake from earlier, though it
had frightened me then. Rebecca once mentioned that she had lived near a lake when she

was young and had deliberately asked for me to add one to our imaginary English estate.

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She would like to be there, I think. It is better than leaving her where she was.

       Verity cries the whole way, but I mercilessly force her on. Incredibly, I manage

to guide us to the right place, even in the dark. As a final thought before dropping

Rebecca into the water, I yank up a flower from the side of the lake and press it into her

hands, slipping it between her interlocked fingers.

       "Thank you for crossing her arms," I say quietly to Verity, the first kind thing I've

said to her the entire time. She was right to do it. Rebecca looks more peaceful with her

hands clasped over her stomach, almost as though she is merely sleeping. Under my

direction we push her into the water. She floats on the surface, carried by some

inexplicable current to the lake's center, and then abruptly sinks like a stone. Verity

whimpers.

       "Please," she says hoarsely, "let's go back. Please!"

       I swallow, staring at the water's surface for a moment, and then nod and turn to

follow as she flees back the way we came.

                                           ~~~

       The days are long and agonizing without Rebecca. Merriweather has us burn

everything of hers, and though the idea is horrible to me I can't work up the energy to

protest, feeling only a dull, panging guilt at the thought of how unhappy it would have

made Rebecca if she knew that her things were being burned. Just like her family. At

least she was spared the same fate.
        It is not until two weeks after her death that I manage to sneak back out to

Rebecca's improvised grave. I watch the water silently for a moment, then clasp my

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hands and bow my head.

        "Dear God," I murmur informally, unwilling to recite an official prayer,

"please...." I lose my voice. How can I pray to a God that allowed Rebecca to be killed

like this?

        I stand frozen for a moment, and then everything comes out in an explosion. "I

hate you!" I shriek, throwing my head back to howl at the sky, my hands flying to pull at

my own hair. "How could you do this? How could you let this happen to her? I hate

you!"

        What is so awful, little one?

        I suck in a breath, freezing up in horror. For a wild moment I think God has

answered me, and then I catch a flash of movement and turn so quickly I nearly fall.

        A huge, indistinct black shape curls out of the water's surface, inky, so dark that it

almost seems to be sucking the light from the air surrounding it. Instinctively I know it is

a quinkan, and it no longer matters that I have never once believed in such things. This is

a quinkan. And it doesn't frighten me at all. I stare at it for a moment, and it almost

seems to be looking back at me. Then it swirls forward to brush against my face.

        I see, its voice breathes in my mind. Still I feel no fear. So you are the one who

brought the girl.

        "Rebecca," I inform it calmly. "Her name is Rebecca."

        I know. It doesn't seem at all odd to me that this is so. Of course it knows.
       "What are you?" I ask, surprising myself. I already know that it is a quinkan, so

why am I asking?

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       The voice sounds amused when it replies, and the inky creature bobs up and down

slightly. You may call me the Fairy King. You are not afraid?

       "No."

       I mean you no harm. I want to help you. The voice takes on an almost seductive,

purring tone, and the Fairy King spreads out to curl around me, rubbing against my cheek

like a cat. What can I do? What do you want?

       "I want Rebecca back," I answer instantly, hoping. Maybe-

       I cannot do that, the Fairy King informs me, almost mournfully, and rubs against

my face again. If I may make a suggestion... is it revenge you want against them?

       I think for a moment, holding still, almost afraid to move in case the spell breaks

and the Fairy King leaves me. Them. Merriweather and the other girls. The monster

who killed Rebecca and the others who did nothing to stop her. Even Verity is suddenly

blackened in my mind. She ran when Rebecca was locked in. Yes, she ran to find me,

but she should have done something herself rather than flee like a coward.

       "Yes," I answer. "It is."

       Very well. Waving tendrils pull outward from the Fairy King's mass, swirling

together to form a sort of long, ghostly hand. The fingers reach toward me and I watch,

unafraid, as they surge forward and stab through my heart.

       Then there is nothing but a feeling of power and simple, beautiful knowledge.

       I am the Fairy Queen. I am a quinkan.
And I will strike them all from the record.

				
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