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?" Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 2 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 3 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. Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 4 ~~~ 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 5 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. Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 6 "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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 7 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? Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 8 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 9 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 10 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!” Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 11 “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- Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 12 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 13 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. Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 14 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 15 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 16 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 18 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 19 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. Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 20 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 Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 21 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? Allegra Condiotte (1-941) 346-2986 Records Keeper 22 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.