Chapter 40

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Alex did all the talking for the first hour or so, trying his best to explain what he had found, leaving out the changes to himself and strange dreams he had during his episodes. Margret sat quietly, every now and then pulling out an article or looking at a picture from his notes. She looked at the yearbook photo the most, always side by side with the picture from the funeral. She didn’t comment until Alex pulled out the copy of the gossip letter.

“Why would you have a letter from a gossip column in all this? You have to know that wouldn’t be true” Margret asked.

“I know,” Alex said, “it was the description of the little girl that made me copy it, that’s why I need to talk to you, I need to know if there are any more pictures of the girls that were killed in that album you have.”

Margret let out a little gasp. “How do you know about that? I’ve kept that locked up for years.”

“Nadia and I found it playing years ago, remember? Your reaction when you found us looking through it stayed in my mind and it made me remember it. I need to know if they all looked alike. All the family pictures you have around here show dark haired people, in the picture from the funeral everyone had dark hair, heck even you have dark hair. It looks to me like all the victims from your family shared Nadia’s red hair and green eyes. They are always the oldest girl, and it’s always once a generation. The only difference I see now is that Nadia is older, but I’m worried that something still may happen, and I think Ethan will have something to do with it.”

Margret shook her head, “I still don’t think so Alex, I just don’t see how it’s possible. You may be right about one thing though, hold on one second.”

She stood up and walked into her bedroom, a few minutes later coming back out holding the album that Alex had seen briefly years before. She held it like it was something to be feared, like she didn’t want to touch it. “Our family has been keeping this since the second time one of the girls were killed. I don’t like to pull it out, or even think about it. I’ve always hoped that it wasn’t real, or at the very least over…”

She turned the album over and opened to the back cover, flipping past a few dozen blank pages until she came to the last collection of clippings and pictures. She turned the album so Alex could see the page, several pictures were taped on forming a collage, all of the same little girl. Margret smiled and pointed to one picture in particular. The picture showed a girl with curly red hair weighed down with mud and leaves, hanging down around the girl’s shoulders and soaking her shirt. A smear of mud ran across her cheek and up to the bottom of her left eye, the same shade of green as Nadia. She also shared Nadia’s mischievous grin as she held a bullfrog up against her face with the same childlike pride Alex could remember in Nadia the day they met. The picture was dated 1965.

“I was too young to remember Annie,” Margret said quietly, “she was seven when they found her, not long after this picture was taken. My mom told me she was out in the front yard catching fireflies when she disappeared. They found her two days later, in the woods. She was only seven.” She wiped a tear from her eye and took a sip of coffee before going on.

“Every time I see this picture I think of Nadia, I never let her leave my sight when she was little, even when she met you I was watching.”

Alex smiled at her and pulled the album closer, Margret didn’t stop him, instead taking his cup and pouring the last of the coffee into it from the pot. Alex was about to tell her no thank you when something in one of the pictures caught his eye. “Do you have a magnifying glass or something” he asked.

“I think dad had one for reading, hold on, I’ll check the study.” She walked into the next room and rummaged through drawers until she brought out an old magnifying glass with a wooden handle. She handed it to Alex, looking at the album from over his shoulder.

One of the pictures in the corner dated 1964 had a large gathering of people around the family house. It looked like they were standing for a family reunion photo, but Alex knew that was just speculation and didn’t ask.

Annie and her family were gathered together near the middle of the group, Annie herself leaning up against her mom who was busy trying to hold a squirming little girl who could only be Margret in her arms. Alex moved the glass away from them and towards the back right hand side of the group. The person who caught his attention was standing in the last row, all the way at the back as if he was trying to hide from the camera. Even though the picture was small and old, it was pretty obvious by his expression that he didn’t want to be part of it.

Alex would have never noticed him except for his blonde hair, and when he pulled the magnifying glass closer, his dark eyes. It was the man who looked like Ethan. Standing behind him, Margret gasped and dropped the mug, sending hot coffee all over the kitchen floor. Neither noticed.

“It can’t be…” Margret said quietly, then pushed Alex to the side and took the magnifying glass for herself. She stared quietly at the picture, comparing it to the yearbook photo and the photo from the funeral.

 “This is what I needed to know,” Alex said quietly behind her, making her jump a little. “We have pictures of Ethan, or someone that looks an awful lot like him, dating all the way back to 1935, and always near the girls. Not only that but, it’s always the first born girls who turn out to have red hair and green eyes. I don’t know about you, but I think it has to be a little more than just a coincidence.”

“But why now? Why after so long? She’s not a little girl anymore, she’s almost a woman. I thought she was safe…” Margret said trailing off.        

“I promise you I plan to find out, one way or another. I don’t know what’s going on or why, but I’m going to stop it” Alex assured her.

Margret nodded, wiping more tears from her eyes. Then with a sudden jerk she looked up at Alex in a panic, “what about Ethan!? I have to get her away from him! It can’t happen again it just can’t.”

She ran to the counter and pulled her cell phone out of her purse, hands shaking she fumbled to open it. Alex quickly ran over to her, putting his hand over the phone.

“What are you doing” Alex asked her.

“I have to call her, I have to tell her she can’t see him again, I have to…” She was cut off when Alex took the phone from her hands, closing it before she could finish dialing Nadia’s number.

“You can’t!” he said, “if this is real, if it’s happening, then Ethan can’t know we’re on to him, and she can’t know anything either. You know her, she’ll either stop talking to us and cling to him, or she’ll act different in front of him and force him to make his move. I have to find out what’s going on first, then we can figure out what to do.” 

Slowly, Margret began to relax, a little at least. Still shaking, Margret shook her head in agreement. “Ok, ok. I don’t like it though. If he starts acting strange, or if she acts any different, I’m putting an end to it. But I’m not giving it long, a week at the most…” her words faded off slowly, like she was trying to come up with how to solve an impossible riddle.

Alex nodded, then looked her in the eyes, “a week then. I’ll follow him around and see if I can’t figure out what to do, or if I’m even right about him. I may not like the guy, but if I’m wrong about this I don’t want to make her think she’s dating a monster for no reason. I’ll come back here next weekend and let you know what I’ve found.”

“Ok, but let me give you something that will help us both out if we have to confront Nadia…” She took one more trip out of the room and came back with a black backpack. She handed it to Alex. He gave her a questioning look as she unzipped the top of the bag.

“It’s all my camera equipment,” she said, “keep it on you and if you can, get proof of whatever he is, or whatever’s happening.”

“I’ll do what I can,” he said. Alex helped her clean up the coffee spill and pieces of the mug that had scattered about the kitchen, then after a quick agreement not to tell Nadia that Alex was there, he left. This was going to be hard and he knew it. He had no idea what he would be looking for, and he certainly didn’t know anything about following people.

One week. As Alex drove the short way home, he started to worry if it would be enough time, but at the same time Alex worried that waiting a full week may be too long. 

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