I loved the outdoors. It was a bright and sunny day. I thought, Why not go for a jog? I raced out through my neighborhood, passing by familiar houses as my neighbors waved and greeted me with, "Hello!" or "How are you?" I was fairly popular in this small community, which I sort of took as a chance to brag about. I managed to reach the local park in about five minutes. A new record, I thought. I began stretching under a large, towering oak tree, watching the little children play on the swings or shriek with joy as they went down the slide, as if they were on a rollercoaster. I bent down to reach for my water bottle lying on the grass when a voice, sweet and eerie, nearly startled me.
"Hello, sir, would you like some apples?" I hadn't seen the girl walk towards me. She wore a red wool cloak over her head that draped down to her mid-thigh. She held the handle of a woven basket with both of her hands. There was nothing suspicious about her like I had assumed. I must've shown fear or surprise in my expression, because she tilted her head in confusion.
"Oh, s-sorry," I stammered, "I didn't see you there."
She nodded slowly. Jeez, I thought. She really gave me the creeps.
Her pale eyes seemed to be staring into space, like she was daydreaming. The girl seemed only thirteen or so. Okay, well, maybe not thirteen, but she definitely seemed young. She was probably fifteen.
"Do you not want any apples?" She held up her basket, revealing about a dozen of fresh, bright red apples.
"Sure," I said, once I've managed to grab a hold of myself. What was wrong with me? Being startled by some kid?
She held up an apple in her hand towards me. Her hands. They were so boney and pale, like she hadn't been out in the sunlight for years. I shuddered.
"That would be one dollar."
I stared at her in surprise. One dollar? For a damn apple? Nearly groaning out loud, I the only bill, five bucks, in my pocket.
"Keep the change," I said. Her eyes brightened up at those words, and she greedily took the money, like it was a of gold or something.
"Thank you, sir," she bowed her head respectively, "have a good day."
She strode away, her feet soundlessly walking on the dew-dropped grass. Before I knew it, she was gone, and I was savouring the apple I bought. Its taste was very juicy, like it had just been picked off a tree. Perhaps the dollar was worth it. After all, I loved apples. When I was a kid, I even ate the bad ones. Suddenly, I began to feel tired. I had only been out for ten minutes. Shrugging, I decided that I should head home. After all, my stomach was beginning to feel a little grumpy.
Several hours later...
News flash: Twenty year old man found dead in the bathroom of his own home. Police officers found no trace of any stab wounds. Investigators are presuming that the cause of his death had been from overdosing on drugs, as there was a spilled bottle of painkillers found lying underneath the sink. Stay tuned for more on the topic. Now back to the weather!
- - -
"I am sick of you not appreciating anything in this household!" my stepdad, Richard, slammed his rolled up newspaper on the wooden dining table.
"I'm just not hungry!" I protested. It was true. His cooking wasn't that bad, but my sister Kaya stuffed me with her friend's birthday cake at school.
"Shouldn't you be doing something more productive?" he said, his tone dangerous, "study for that damn test of yours!"
"Already have," I muttered. I wish I could've taken it back, because his face grew red in rage.
"Aria, get the hell out of my house!" he pointed towards the door, "your mother wouldn't have appreciated your attitude!"
Giving him one last glare, I rushed out the door, hearing it slam shut behind me. Great. I didn't have a phone to ask where Kaya was, but I was fairly sure that she was at her friend Justin's house. "Friend," I thought. More like boyfriend and her "Prince Charming" or "future husband." I scoffed at the mere thought of it. She called it "true love at first sight" but really it was just one of her "sixteen year old fantasies."
By the time I finally reached the house, small in stature, it was already sunset. I rapped my knuckles on the door. It swung open, creaking along the way, and Kaya stood at the doorway. Her mousy brunette hair was in two neat pigtails, her green eyes gleaming with excitement and pleasure. She reminded me too much of my stepmom, Umbrielle, before she died. She tried spoiling us, but I think Kaya was the only one really affected.
"Such a surprise to see you here," she grinned widely, "we're just having a little study session."
"'Study session,'" I repeated sarcastically. Rolling her eyes, she ushered me in, shutting the door behind her.
She sat on the couch next to her boyfriend Justin, who had the same permanent and perverted smirk on his face.
"So what did your stepsister get in trouble for this time?" he asked Kaya in his usual arrogant tone.
"What makes you think she got in trouble?" Kaya said defensively.
"I actually did," I admitted, although they ignored me as they continued arguing, which later escalated into a kiss. Then a make-out session. Okay, this was going too far.
"Guys, stop," I said firmly. They ignored me, continuing to make the same mushy sounds they did whenever they kissed.
"Kaya, Dad wants you to stop seeing Justin." She looked up at me. She rolled her eyes, groaning.
"I suppose we should get going now," she stood up. We were escorted out the door only to find out that it had grown dark outside.
We passed through several street lamps before we found the pathway to the forest. To our house. I have no freaking clue as to why my stepparents chose to live in the middle of the woods. All I know is that when they adopted me from the orphanage, they had already been living there. Umbrielle said it was to "get closer to nature." I believed her at first. I would always go to the garden in the back of our house, smelling the flowers. Umbrielle would teach me the names of them. She said all of them were harmless but one. I always forgot the name of the plant, but it usually lingered in the back of my head. It was called hemlock. Umbrielle said it was deadly and fatal to those who drink its juice, so she told me to not go near it, since she assumed I was as clumsy and naive as an 10 year old Kaya back then.
I didn't mind Umbrielle, even though she tried to get me to wear dresses and such. That was until she died. I didn't realize how much I grew to care for her until then. She died in a gunshot at the bank she was at to withdraw the cash, and only the women died there. It turned out the gunner was a sexist and hated women, being able to get ahold of money on their own. At the time, my twelve-year old self wanted to be a women's rights campaigner, to fight against sexism and all that. But my stepdad, Richard, ruined it. He said it was all my fault she died, and that I was a curse, a jinx to the family. He called me a demon child. A bad apple. I didn't realize that I was crying until Kaya pointed it out.
"Um, Aria, are you okay?" Kaya asked me, sympathy in her tone.
"Yeah," I muttered. I was grateful for a sister like her. Someone who actually cared for me. Someone who wouldn't leave me.
"You know, maybe you should see a doctor. People don't cry out of the blue like that." Okay, maybe she was a pain in the arse sometimes, but other than that, I still loved her.
Richard said I didn't deserve her, and maybe that was true, but I'm glad to have her. We finally arrived at the house, still in good condition even after surviving through harsh thunderstorms for over the fifty years after it was built. Kaya unlocked the door with her spare key, which I never got the privilege of having, and slowly and as quietly as possible pushed it open. I made a silent prayer for Richard to have been asleep, but nope. He was sitting right in the living room.
"You," he pointed a shaky finger at me, "are in big trouble, young lady."
He walked towards me.
"You come back after curfew, and what's worse is that you brought your sister down with you!" He was so angry and filled with rage that he trembled as he spoke. Veins popped out of his arms and forehead. He was so, so angry, and I didn't know why.
He gripped my face with both of his strong hands. He began to shake me back in forth until I let out a sob, feeling dizzy. At that point, I just wanted to collapse to the ground and never be bothered again.
"Stay in your room!" he pushed me towards the dark hallway. "And you are not to come out of it!"
My face wet with hot tears, I ran through the darkness. A part of me wanted some kind of monster to jump out at me and end my life, but I realized that was wrong. Death wasn't the answer. I reached my room, slamming the door behind me, but then knew that was a big mistake. Screw it, I thought, I don't care anymore.
I collapsed onto my bed, weeping uncontrollably into my pillow, now cold and soaking wet. Underneath, I felt something hard. A picture frame of my parents. My biological parents. I laid on my back, staring at the photo. We looked so happy back then. In the picture I was seven, grinning stupidly at the camera. To my left stood my father, a small smile forming on his shaven bearded face. To my left was my mother. My mother. The one that I wish were here right now. I had her beautiful, red auburn hair, only mine wasn't as pretty as hers. My eyes I'd gotten from my father. Somehow, his were warm and full of happiness while mine were pale, cold, and dull. It was only because I was too stubborn to get out of the house that they went out alone. I was being watched by a babysitter then. Then the police came and told the babysitter that my parents were dead. A drunk driver, they had said. I slipped the picture back underneath my pillow, and tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, but I couldn't. I wanted my mother. I wanted Umbrielle. I wanted to get away from here. Soon, the darkness took over me, and I drifted off into a restless sleep.
"Pst, wake up." There was a distant and hushed voice.
"Aria! Wake. Up."
"Aria Franklin, if you don't wake up, I will-"
"I'm up, I'm up," I grumbled, sitting up from my bed. Kaya was at the edge of my bed, looking cheery as usual. It was obvious she didn't get in trouble. Not even a scolding. Whatever. I was used to it.
"Sheesh, harsh one, are ya?" she smiled, then held a book up. "Look what I found!"
"What the hell is that?" I rubbed my eyes, gazing at the dusty, brown book.
"It's a book," she exclaimed, "about plants!"
"You're kidding me, right?"
"Nope! It's a real book! Touch it!"
"I know what a book is!" I pulled my hand away from hers. I took the book.
"Why on Earth would I need this?" I scowled, "and it's an encyclopedia."
"Well, you're grounded, so you might as well learn something-"
My scowl deepened.
"Alright, alright," she said, although she looked quite intimidated, "I know you like plants, or you used to, right until-"
If looks could kill, Kaya would be dead on the floor by now.
"I'll shut up now," she spun and left the room, leaving me alone with a book about plants. I sat on my bed, which was quite tall, my feet dangling from the edge, and barely touching the floor. I opened the encyclopedia, flipping to the first page. Abelia, it said. I flipped the pages. Agave. Albuca. Aloe. It was an encyclopedia on plants. I flipped through pages B to D, then E to F. Then G. Then H. Hemlock, it said. My eyes lingered on the page. In the corner was a small picture of a leafy plant. Its stem was smooth and green, the bottom streaked with red. It somewhat reminded me of the color of blood. The flowers emitting from the stem were small and white, clustered up into little bundles. Hemlock, or poison hemlock, is a highly poisonous perennial herbaceous flowering plant, native to Europe and North Africa. We have some in the back, I thought. Highly poisonous... Maybe I could- No. What was I thinking? Was I planning to actually use it?
"Pft," I said out loud, "you're an idiot, Aria."
I shut the book close, dust flying through air. Ignoring the tiny specks, I stuffed the book under my bed next to a bunch of other junk, including a first-aid kit.
"One day..." I said to myself as I slumped back onto my bed, "I'll earn enough money to get out of this hell."
It was an hour until supper. Kaya had not come back to my room since that very morning. I had no idea if Richard even wanted me to join him and his daughter for dinner, but I decided to go down anyways. Couldn't hurt to try, right? I quietly climbed the carpeted stairs, which gave the house an old Victorian feeling, and snuck my way to the kitchen. But then, the most bizarre thing happened. I heard noises, the moaning of a man behind the counter. There were the hiccups and muffled sobs of a young teenage girl. Pacing towards the suspicious sound, I walked in a fighting stance and braced myself for whatever was behind that countertop.
Kaya was lying on the ground, an old rag stuffed into her mouth. She was stark naked, and her clothes were rumpled in a pile in the corner of the kitchen, as if she was forced to strip down and her clothes were thrown in a fit of hurry. Her face was drenched in old and fresh tears. And on top of her was a man. Richard. Her own father. My stepdad. Then suddenly I knew what I was witnessing. It was a molestation! My breathing became quicker. I didn't know what to do. I was scared. I wanted to break down and cry. It was so horrifying.
Richard looked up, his disgusting grin fading into a menacing scowl.
"You-! Why you little-" before I could prepare myself for the blow, he stroke me in the jaw, knocking me to the cold, hard tile floor.
"No! A-Aria!" I heard Kaya whimper.
Richard snapped towards her direction. "Don't you tell anyone," he growled, "you understand me?"
Kaya only stared, a horrified expression plastered on her face.
"Do you understand me?" he repeated more harshly. "Your mother wouldn't want you to say a word."
Kaya nodded, pressing her knees to her chest. She buried her face in her hands, silently crying.
Richard yanked me by the collar of my shirt. "Get out. Don't come back until supper."
I didn't want to leave Kaya with him. With that monster. I scrambled towards the back door, wanting to look back, wanting to help my sister. She had been harassed by her own father. The scene replayed in my head like a movie, ever so clearly. Kaya's sobs and whimpers, Richard groaning in pleasure... a shiver went down my spine and before I knew it, I was outside in Umbrielle's garden, the flowers and greenery still flourishing. I looked up; the grey puffs of smoke drifting through the sky concealed the dim sunlight. It gave a gloomy, depressing feel, as if it reflected my emotions. Even with knowing that it would rain soon, I took a walk through the garden. The flowers were blooming, although they haven't been tended for in three years. I inhaled the fresh scent of the crisp air, unpolluted, unlike the city, due to us living in a house surrounded by tall pine trees. I passed by many plants. Towering over me was a tall apple tree, the fruits ripe and ready to pick. I recognized one of flowers as a lavandula. Or, lavender, in common terms. The violet petals extended from its healthy green stem. I was tempted to pick it from the root when a certain bush caught my eye at the very back of the garden. One I remembered Umbrielle warning me about. Native to Europe and North Africa... Flashes of excerpts from the plant encyclopedia popped up in my mind. Highly poisonous... Hemlock. Hemlock.
At that moment, I didn't know what had gotten into me. I began to pick the leaves off of the plant. Only the juice was poisonous. Umbrielle told me. Umbrielle told me that one douse of the juice would kill an adult man in several hours. No, that wasn't quick enough. I continued to pluck leaf after leaf until I had nearly two handfuls of poison hemlock. There was a load roar. I realized it had began to rain, and the thunder crackled through the air. I ran through the garden towards the back door, still opened, while the raindrops soaked my T-shirt. Shutting the door behind me, I sprinted up the stairs and into my room, lying out all the leaves on my desk. They were still dry. I took a pair of scissors from the drawer, snipped it open, and, with the blade, dragged it over the hemlock. Green juice leaked out, spilling on the desk.
"Crap," I muttered. I spotted a glass cup that I had forgotten to clean up on my bedside table. I quickly grabbed it and allowed the hemlock juice to spill into the glass. More. I needed more. Snip. Drag. Spill. Snip. Drag. Spill. Drag. Spill. It seemed like hours had passed when in reality it had only been several minutes or so. I juiced each hemlock leaf dry, filling the glass cup nearly full.
"Aria!" I heard Richard yelling from downstairs, "get down here! You have ten seconds before-"
"I'm coming!" I yelled back, feeling impatient.
Supper. I looked down at the cup, and realized there was no way I could run down without the juice spilling out. I remembered the first-aid kit.
"Let me get dressed!" I shouted, attempting to buy me more time. There was no response. That meant I was okay to do so.
I could possibly use the gauze to wrap around the cup, just in case. I knelt next to my bed, tilting my head sideways so I could see underneath, and hauled out the medical box. It was covered in dust from being stuffed under there for who-knows-how long. I flipped the cover open and noticed a few rolls of white gauze. I grabbed one, and before shutting the box close, I saw a rather large needle wrapped in tissue and inside a plastic ziplock. Of course, it'll be easier to give a douse of hemlock by injecting the victim with a needle. Just like a vaccination.
As I finished filling the needle with the entire cup of the hemlock juice, I had second thoughts. What was I doing? Was I actually going to kill Richard? There was a knock on my door and before I could say, "Come in," it opened. Kaya stood at the doorway, shaken and afraid. I quickly stood in front of my desk, covering the mess I had made. Crap, I can't let her see anything.
"D-Daddy wants you to go downstairs for dinner," she said, hardly over a whisper.
"I know. I'm done, now shut the door," I snapped. I felt guilty and ashamed of my words.
What was I thinking? She was the actual victim of the, dare I say, rape, not me! Her muffled screams and cries echoed through my head... It was not until the door finally did closed that I was snapped back into reality. The needle still laid on my table, filled to the rim with poison. I carefully slipped it into the my jeans' right pocket, tugging my shirt down to cover the lump. I scooped up the dried leaves and stuffed it in the other pocket. Finally, I left my room and went to join Richard and Kaya for supper.
Kaya sat on the other end of the table from her dad, quietly eating a bowl of soup and peas. Richard, to my surprise, looked dazed and worn out. I looked at Kaya, hoping for an answer.
"Drunk," she mouthed, and resumed to eating her food.
I was about to take a seat when Richard pointed to the kitchen and grumbled, rather sloppily, "Get me the pie in the fridge."
I was confused about whether he was talking to me and Kaya. She gulped. For her sake, paced towards the kitchen and did as he ordered. The sliced piece of apple pie looked very delicious, and was baked only a few days before. I was about to walk back to the dining table when I felt the needle in my pocket. My trembling hand drifted towards the tool. I slid it out and hovered it over the pie for a few moments when I finally made my decision. I placed my thumb over the plunger, set the tip of the needle on the middle of the pie, and pushed down. I used up half of the syringe, the green liquid reminding me of one of those cartoon chemistry bottles.
I returned to the table and set the plate of pie in front of Richard. The needle, now empty, rested in my pocket. There was no going back. With every sip I took of my soup, I glanced every now and then at Richard. By the time I was barely half way done with my food, and Kaya nearly finished with hers, Richard was already done with his entire slice of pie. He grunted.
"Must've been expired," he muttered before glowering at me.
My stepdad stood up, then doubled over in pain. He groaned with agony.
"Ah-g-gh," he collapsed to the floor.
"Daddy?" Kaya whimpered and ran over to Richard, shaking him by the shoulder. "Daddy? What's wrong?" She began to cry. "What's wrong with him? Is he having a heart attack? Daddy!"
I didn't know what to say. I stood there, completely shocked. Yet I felt pleasure. It was like having a big heavy weight lifted from my back. He deserved it, I thought. He hurt his own daughter, and yet...
"You care for him."
Her head snapped towards me. "Of course I do!" she shrieked, "quick! Call 911! Please, don't die, Daddy! Don't die!"
I remained motionless.
"Aria! What the hell are you doing? Get the phone!"
"You're so ungrateful," I looked at her right in the eye. Her eyes were blue, like Umbrielle's. They were so pretty. Her light hair messily framed her face, wet with tears.
"Please! Get the phone! Call the hospital-"
"No," I said sternly.
"I said no! Do you know what he did to you? He harassed you! He doesn't care for you! You remember what he did to you earlier? He- he-"
I couldn't go on. I was so overwhelmed with rage and anger. Because of her. Kaya, she didn't care if she was nearly beaten to death by Richard. She would still love him.
"No," Kaya suddenly said. Her hand was thumping over Richard's chest. "No, no, no, no, no! His heart, it stopped! It- it was beating so fast moments ago, but then..."
"Hemlock," I stared down at her, "it was hemlock."
"But how? He wouldn't stupidly eat a plant!" she exclaimed. "He can't be dead! He can't be! He's still alive, we just need to call the hospital. Dammit, Aria, get the phone!"
"Hemlock is highly poisonous," I repeated, "native to Europe and-"
"I don't give a damn! Aria, he's dead! What are we going to do? The police will come and they will take us away!"
She was right. I pulled out the needle. Kaya stared at me with horror, her eyes wide.
"What is that?" she was panting, "Aria, did you kill him? You poisoned him, didn't you? You killed him! You killed him!"
She continuously sobbed and screamed, "Murderer!" until she finally stood up. Her knees were trembling and looked like they were about to collapse, just like Richard did, any moment. In her hand was Richard's phone, and she had "911" ready and dialed.
"Aria," she whispered, "I'm sorry, but I have to. I have to call them. I have to tell them that you killed him. It's so wrong. I can't believe you did it. I never would have expected it from you."
She pressed call. Then I lunged at her. Everything was a blur. One moment we were both standing, face to face, and the next I was on top of her. I knocked her to the ground, making her drop her phone. The screen cracked, and it turned off.
"No!" she screamed, "please, stop!"
I lifted the needle and aimlessly jabbed at her. Tiny sprinkles of blood spewed from her neck, and she screamed louder. I pressed the plunger down, and the hemlock juice entered her system. She would die within a few hours at the most, as it wasn't as big of a dose that I gave Richard. But she could die quickly, since her immune system was quite weak, as she once caught a cold in the summer. She cried and weeped until her lungs were tired, but that could just be a side effect from the poison. I finally stood up and watched her broken body. Her blue eyes were filled with tears. They were so pretty. Soon, the life will drain from them at any moment.
I looked down at the phone, remembering when she was about to call the police. Speaking of which, they would be able to track it down and find their location. I snatched it up and ran to the garden. It was pouring hard. The grey sky was concealed with dark puffs of clouds, rain falling from above. Ignoring the raindrops dripping onto my head, I ran towards the hemlock push. I grabbed a shovel hanging on the fence, threw the phone on the damp dirt, and struck it as hard I could with the tool. It finally broke into several pieces. It took a while to do so, but I finally dug a hole deep enough for the broken phone and buried it. It must've taken about half an hour, but by the time I returned to the house, Kaya was lying on the ground, motionless. I was quivering myself. What have I done? She was my sister! I killed her, I bloody killed her.
That was when there was a knock on the front door.
"Crap," I cursed.
"In a minute!" I called out.
I dragged both bodies inside the pantry. Sure, it was small, but they both managed to fit. I was disgusted when I shoved Kaya on top of Richard, as it reminded me of her harassment. Kaya's muffled screams repeated in my head again. Ignoring the scene, I closed the pantry door and ran towards the front. At the doorway stood a young couple, both shivering and wet from the pouring rain. The man had on a vest and cargo pants, as if he was just arrived from fishing. The woman wore a short red cloak over her head. She looked sickly and feeble.
"Excuse me, Miss?" the man said, "but we have gotten lost during camping. Our car was stolen, and everything just went downhill."
He scratched the back of his head. "My wife here caught a fever, and I was wondering if you could let us stay for a bit? Maybe you could let us use your phone?"
"What happened to your phones?" I asked, although a bit too quickly. I was panicking. What if they suspected something strange? I pulled my T-shirt down more to cover the lump of the needle in my pocket.
"Our phones got drenched in the rain," the woman chattered. Her eyes were blue, like Umbrielle's. Like Kaya's.
"Come on in," I stepped aside and allowed the couple to enter the house. They took a seat on the couch in the living room, possibly soaking the seats with their wet clothing.
"I'm so sorry to ask, but do you have anything to drink or eat? Perhaps a sandwich for my wife?" the man asked me.
I nearly scoffed. What did he think I was? A maid?
Instead, I replied politely, "I believe I have some back in the kitchen, give me a moment."
I turn around and walked towards the kitchen. The pantry door must've creaked open from the weight of both Kaya's and Richard's bodies. I grabbed an apple from the fruit basket. I recalled the needle and hemlock poison. I had to run. There was no way I could stay and not be counted as a suspect, considering how I'm the only one alive in the house. I still had about one-fourths of the hemlock juice remaining in the syringe. I injected the apple with it, and I had no second thoughts.
I returned to the living room, with the apple in my right hand and the needle in the other, subtly behind my back.
"I don't have any sandwiches," I told them, "but would you like some apples?"
The woman nodded. "Of course, I love apples!"
I grinned a little too widely as she took the fruit from my hand and began nibbling at it. The man smiled at me.
"We owe you," he said, "would you like anything? Money, perhaps?"
So they had money with them. That's a start. The man's wife began to cough abruptly.
"Oh, it's fine," she reassured him, "just my fever, that's all. I'm feeling a bit tired, do you mind if we stay here for the night?"
"Don't you worry," I slowly walked behind her husband. I prepared the needle. "You can rest here for as long as you'd like."