The problem when you live in a small town, and your parents' murder is the only unsolved case in the last two decades, is that everyone knows your name. You become a legend of sorts, but not the kind I'd ever wish on anyone, because no one is able to let it go. The wounds remain fresh, the blood constantly dripping and never able to clot. Not that I want my parents forgotten—no I'd never want that—I just want to heal myself. So, it's easier when I'm someone else.
That's why I told the model-thin blonde sitting across the table from me that my name is Liz Beckett. It's not entirely a lie, my middle name is Elizabeth. It's just less complicated if I don't give her my first name. For that same reason I dye my hair from flaming apricot to ebony black—I'm able to blend in.
"So, has your brother always had a passion for music?" As if on cue the volume of the band amplifies, sending the base vibrating through the walls.
Melissa Maisano found me as I was grabbing a rum and coke—honestly, I needed more than one to deal with this shitstorm—wearing a yellow lace dress that stuck out in the crowd like a sunflower in the ashes of a fire. As she apologized for nailing me in the ribs, she noticed my red and yellow press pass and offered an interview. Her brother is the bassist and they're the children of Senator Maisano. So, to turn down an interview would be the death of my career.
She keeps a small smile on her thin rose-petal-pink lips. "Yes..." she continues with a story about the various garage bands he had throughout high school, that he's a music major against their father's wishes, and how she's just so proud of him.
She tucks her loose blonde curls behind her ear, a tiny silver bracelet dangling around her dainty wrist. The dim lights twinkle off the tiny golden charms of the Eiffel Tower, an airplane, a music note, and various hearts and stars.
This is what the opposite side of the limelight looks like—flawless ivory skin with just the right amount of rouge on her cheeks and inspiring blue eyes that exude nothing but hope and wonder. A flutter of her eyelashes gets her exactly what she wants—I can't imagine a life like that. "...but it wasn't until they found their lead singer Jeremy that they started getting gigs on their own." I have to control my eyeroll. I doubt she's ever had to deal with any real hardship in her life.
I set down my pen and close my notebook. "You've given me some great material. Thank you so much for sitting down with me."
"Of course, anytime." She stands and offers her hand over the table and I instinctively extend mine to meet it. "When can we expect to see it published?"
"Later this week, I'd expect."
"Great, we'll keep an eye out."
I can't help but smile, it's cute that even in their privileged lives they still keep newspaper clippings just like Nana did for me and my sister, Alma. I settle back into my chair and open my notebook as Melissa moves toward the door, but when she doesn't leave, I meet her gaze.
"They only have a couple more songs, do you want to join?"
I politely wave her off. "No thanks, I'm doing their exit interview. I've got a few things I want to jot down before they get back here."
"Of course. I just thought I'd ask." This time she slips out the door, letting it click behind her.
Honestly, the volume is perfect back here anyways. I'd even say they're almost good. Out there it seemed like they were playing deliberately too loud with the theory if no one could hear, they couldn't say they sucked. I flipped to my notes and let myself get lost in the music the way I used to walking home from school, ear buds in and hoodie over my head to hide my face. A loud bang from the hall pulls me from my trance and I expect someone to come through the door, but no one does.
My gaze drops back to my notebook. Silence creeps into the room, heavy and thick—even the music seems muffled. My chest squeezes, heart pattering a little harder against my ribs. It's just because I'm alone. I get this way sometimes. I smother my anxiety when I'm in the crowd but then it breaks through when I'm by myself. It was probably just those heavy doors closing after Melissa went through. Maybe she used the bathroom or something before leaving.
I concentrate on the smiling faces of the music legends hanging on the burnt salmon walls. Ten of them to be exact. I look over them again: Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Janis Joplin...
My breathing slows and I try to concentrate on my notes but the words keep twisting, one line blurring into another. My head snaps back up as a shrill, terrified scream echoes from the hall.
I'm frozen. My eyes locked on the door like it's magically going to reveal the source. I couldn't have just heard what I thought I did. It had to be my imagination—a fan-girl screaming in front of the stage. I expect the handle to move and someone to come bursting in laughing. But nothing happens—nothing.
The echo of the scream is still moving—circling around me. Expecting me to come find it, like it's calling my name. My chest tightens—I'm not sure if I'm breathing, but I finally find the strength to move my fingers, then my hands to push myself away from the table. I'll look into the hall and when there is nothing there, I'll go back out and finish watching the show. That way I won't be alone.
As I approach the door, the edges of my vision darken and I sway, catching my hand on the silver handle. I blink and the door shifts to a dark mahogany with a gold handle. My breath catches and I slam my eyes shut drawing a deep breath and counting to ten, clearing the image from my mind. When my eyes reopen, my vision is clear, and the door is back to the same shade of worn steady-brown.
My chest shakes with several cleansing breaths before I dare to move.
Step one: open the door.
I yank the door open and my heart finally unwedges itself from my throat. The only thing on the other side is the bare pine-nut wall and the mounted lamp, flickering its hazy yellow light. It's further confirmation that I am being completely dramatic.
Yet, my fingers still tingle as I step into the hall. My gaze follows the wall falling on door after door.
Stop—one is slightly ajar. My gaze slips down the frame.
My muscles tense. This time, I don't know if I'll be able to move. This time my heart isn't even trying to come out my throat—it's going to bust it's way through my ribcage. My chest heaves trying to catch my fleeting breaths. But they're too shallow—too weak. I grab the wall to hold myself up. But my eyes are glued to the women's slender hand sticking out of the frame—wearing a silver and gold charm bracelet.
"Melissa." It comes out more like a puff of air. I count the lamps. Five. Six. Seven. It grounds me enough to pull myself toward her. "Melissa," I say again, as I reach the door and I try to push it open, but it bounces back. I slump against it, half from necessity, half from my inability to find my complete balance and it opens.
To my horror it opens.
The yellow light spills across her blank blue eyes—drained of their hope. Her skin is milky and pale, even the rouge doesn't brighten her cheeks anymore. I cover my mouth, as I see the blood staining the neckline of her dress, no longer the bright and vibrant sunflowers of summer but the dark and dying colors of late fall.
But my eyes lock on the one thing I'd been avoiding—the source of the blood. Two tiny dark marks on her neck, no larger than the tip of a pencil. A thin stream of blood spouts from them and follows the curve of her neck, dripping into a small puddle on the floor.
"Help," I gasp, unable to find my voice. I reach for her hand, steadying myself on the frame. But as I draw nearer, I gag at the overwhelming metallic smell of the blood. "Help," I manage a little louder. My fingers fumble across the smooth skin of her wrist, knocking the bracelet away. I want to feel the gentle lub-dub beneath my fingertips, but inside I know it won't come. The smell seeps into me, muddling my thoughts. I gather all my strength, and as my vision darkens, I cry out one last time before the darkness takes me.
YOU ARE READING
Charley Beckett-perfectly sane, normal, Charley Beckett-counts everything. Years since her parents' unsolved murder: fifteen. Bodies she's found dead: three. Puncture wounds on each of their throats: two. People who believe her when she says vampire...