To Do Us Harm

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Rachel felt a heavy burden on her now. She knew the truth. Helene hadn't burned her on purpose, as she'd thought-well almost thought-so many times. But she'd never allowed herself to really take hold of the idea. It was far too weighty a notion.

And now she knew that this particular glint of abstract terror was not the truth. But the truth wasn't much better.

And she still couldn't recall all of it. Everything was coming into her brain in flimsy drips and drabs, and none of it was enough to paint a clear picture. It was all like a dream that she'd almost forgotten, and even as she sorted through the fragments, she knew there was a chance that what she saw was inaccurate. How could she be sure it was all right? It had all been buried for so long. Buried like ashes. The truth could still be hidden in the soil of her psyche.

But what she did know was that Helene had let her burn. That part was crystal.

She couldn't be sure about the centipede. She couldn't be sure about the missing crayon. She couldn't be sure of any of the watery images or details that came to mind, save for the fact that Helene had let her burn. She hadn't pushed or thrown Rachel into the fire, but she had stood there and watched as Rachel burned. As the flames peeled the skin from her face, taking it off in crumpling layers, like the papery red of an apple.

Rachel knew this and her heart felt swollen and infected by the knowledge. She wanted to throw it up out of her, purge it from herself. Maybe that was what she had done in the first place. Maybe that was why she hadn't known for so long.

Now she did know, and the night sky was so much blacker. She didn't know where the stars had gone. It was as though they'd all burned out.

She didn't sleep the remainder of the night. She trudged back to the old, dusty house, nearly as dusty as Helene's ceramic-producing kitchen. She felt different now. Her thoughts had slowed down. They were no longer buzzing and clattering over one another, each of them trying to be the one considered first, but in the end all mixing together, creating something odd and incomprehensible. No, she could see what had been happening now..sort of...

She crept back upstairs, the darkness no longer frightening, and crawled back into bed, where she spent the rest of the dark hours lying on her back, staring up at the ceiling, which was covered in cobwebs and cracks. She still wore her coat.

By the time morning came, her head was pounding. Her eyeballs ached. In the very center of her forehead, she felt a prickling and light sort of feeling, like her head had only just decided to get dizzy but was doing a poor job of execution.

She heard Helene and Tierney wake several hours after the light in the room turned from black to gray. She heard the ominous caw of a crow and thought it was fitting. Everything about this place was so creepy and suspended in time. The chair she'd burned in was still there...

Rachel listened to the voices of Helene and Tierney.

Helene was her mom.

That was so strange.

She was her mom...and she had watched while Rachel burned...

Something new cloyed at her thoughts. She felt like it was something that had always been there, but she was somehow only just noticing.

"I'm never going to have a normal life," she whispered.

The words hung in the dusty stale room.

It was all hitting her now. Her face was horribly disfigured. She was missing an eye. She always tried to ignore it. She always tried not to let it get to her. She pushed away the irritation when people were far too stickly sweet in their manner, trying to hide the grimace they wanted to wear.

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