He’s going to kill her. He’s going to kill her.
The words reverberated in the cavern of Lilith’s mind. The light and warmth of Bella’s voice had been extinguished and she was alone and drowning in the freezing darkness.
She struggled to breathe as ice gripped her lungs and waves of images and voices crashed over her head.
Kill her. He’s going. Going to kill. To kill her. Her.
Flames as cold as death licked at her skin and smoke filled her nostrils. The outside world with its ornate sofas and dead tree and soft-voiced angel receded from her vision as she sunk beneath the waves.
Ghosts and fire. Fire and ghosts. Nothing else had ever existed and nothing else ever would exist. Why struggle any longer?
Everything went silent and dark as she let herself go. There was no more Lilith. There was only shadow and flame.
But then there came a sound. It was faint and muffled and just on the very edge of hearing, but it was real. At the core of Lilith’s soul, something heard the sound and flickered in response.
“As you can well imagine, I didn’t really know what to say to that. But she looked so sad and strange. And wild. I began to wonder if she was even real. Perhaps she was some memory of the rocks, an echo of an event they had witnessed long ago.”
‘What do you mean? Who’s going to kill who? What’s going on?’
“She startled and looked into my eyes for the first time, and I realized that she hadn’t known I was there before.”
‘He said not to talk to other people. He said they were crazy and were out to get him and that I shouldn’t talk to them.’
‘I’m not out to get anyone, I promise. I just came up here for fun. Are you all right? Did you want to talk to an adult? My parents are at home. They’re all right, mostly.’
“I was quite confused and a little bit scared, but I felt sorry for her and wanted to help her. She was so pitiful.”
‘He said…he said not to talk to other people. He said bad things would happen. I’m scared.’
‘It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe. Come on home with me. My brother Michael can be annoying, but he’s probably not home right now anyway. My mom’s really nice. She’ll make us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we can play on the swings and it’ll be fun.’
‘NO! He said bad things. He said bad things would happen. He says that they want him to die and I don’t want him to die. He’s my daddy.’
‘Look, it’s okay, really. I promise my family and I don’t kill people. You look like you could use some fun. And a friend.’
“She stared off into the distance and I was afraid I’d lost her. Her eyes had much the same look as yours do now. But then she spoke again.”
‘Friend. I’ve never had one of those before.’
The flickering in Lilith’s soul had grown brighter as the sound had grown stronger and clearer. The ghostly voices had faded into the background and a small circle of light was keeping the shadows at bay.
The angelic sound coalesced into one word, a word that set the circle of light expanding until Lilith was surrounded by light and warmth and reality.
“There you are. Welcome back!”
Bella’s smile swept through Lilith’s mind, clearing away the shadows and silencing the whispers.
“I promise we’re getting to the interesting part soon, and you need to hear it. Stay with me now, all right?”
“I loved that old swingset in our backyard. I drove by the old house years ago and noticed that it wasn’t there anymore. I often wonder what happened to it, if it’s alone in the dark in some storage shed or rusting quietly away in the woods or, hopefully, in another backyard giving another child endless hours of joy.”
“Emma had eventually ended up coming home with me that day. I don’t believe she’d ever seen a swingset before, poor thing.”
“She laughed and talked and glowed like a flower opening up to the sun. I could feel her excitement at being out on her own and having fun and meeting new people and it seemed like my own sky was a bit brighter.”
“But still there was always a shadow, a secret dark place within herself that she would never show.”
“I never did see her at school. Homeschooling wasn’t really heard of much back then, you know. But I didn’t press the issue. I never wanted to see her eyes look as empty and sad as they did when I first met her again. We’d meet at the stones a few days a week and she would come over and play.”
“She never mentioned her father or the possibility of someone killing someone else again. I let it go. She seemed so happy and I didn’t want to remind her of it. Besides, it was so awful and unpleasant. Things like that just didn’t happen in Sunset Valley.”
“And so I held on to my innocence longer than I should. Those halcyon days were lovely and full of joy, but they should never have happened. I should have listened to her that day at the rocks. I should have told my parents.”
“I should have done a lot of things.”