3. IT IS DISTURBING
My mom, Caroline, is just as sad as I am about my father's death.
She won't say it, but her face tells me everything. I've lived seventeen years enough to recognize her expressions. She was the person who moulded me into a calm cynic, even as a loving mother. None of her seemingly cold expressions passed my notice – she missed my father as much as I did. She was just trying to remain calm for both of our sakes. In denial, maybe.
"Mom, do you want to take a rest? I'll unpack my own stuff." I spoke up from the doorframe. "You don't need to do this."
She spared me a bleak smile and set a box down. "It's fine Madison. I have plenty of strength left in me."
I went out to the SUV to grab another heavy box filled with my stuff. After the funeral, my father's lawyer and friend read the will. The gossiping women were probably satisfied when they learned that I was a quarter of a million dollars richer and that my college fund was all set. My mom gained a lot too, including me as she became my sole parent and guardian. So a week later, I'm now moving into my mom's quiet loft closer to town.
"Need help with that, honey?" my mom called out to me.
Caroline, as I secretly called her sometimes, was a good mom. My parents divorced when I was ten or eleven because of different, hectic work schedules. Caroline is a neurological surgeon and my father was an entrepreneur, so they never had much time to themselves. I don't know why I chose my father over her. But I did, and so my mom was left alone in her loft until I visited. My mom is still pretty after all those years, with her auburn red hair and clear green eyes. I'm glad I inherited her eyes because they're such a striking part of her. I think that if I ever part with her, I'll be able to recognize her for her eyes.
The box in my hands almost slipped out of my grasp as I went up the stairs. After the funeral Cye had helped me pack up and box my belongings for the move. He was quieter than usual, but he was extremely helpful. He was my sole companion besides my mother for the past week and it was only today that he wasn't coming by.
Lugging the box upstairs, I found my mom making tea and reading so I let her be, continuing on to my room.
"Madison, you have a few letters honey." My mom called from the kitchen. "I left them on your bureau. Do you need help now?"
Great. It's my first official day here and I'm already getting mail. "No mum, I'm fine. Just rest. I can handle a few boxes. You need to sleep."
Dumping the box on the bed, I glanced at the letters on the bureau. They were all typed, official-looking affairs. I picked one up and found that it was actually hand printed. Amazing. A human calligraphy robot! What was stranger was that instead of an ordinary postmarked stamp, there was a crescent shaped sticker, which I realised was a moon. Mysterious. And there wasn't a return address. This is getting odd.
I picked up another envelope and found that it was the same, except the moon was a full one. The last one had a half moon on it. These three envelopes were for me, from sender unknown. Wonderful.
I opened up the first one, expecting a letter of explanation from one of my friends in the band. Maybe it was a late Halloween joke. Instead I found a ticket stub dating from the night before Halloween, the day I began having paranoid tendencies. In the end I found myself shaking a little.
I ferociously tore the next two envelopes up, nervous. One was just a black card with elegant white lettering and red embellishing. It was a card of condolences and apologies. The other contained photos of the sky. The night sky and the moon. A full moon.
"Maddi, are you alright in there?" my mom's voice echoing up the stairs caused me to jump a little. "Need my help?"
My mom is sweet, and even though she's tired, but she's still helpful to the point of annoying. "No mum. I'm fine. What day is it?"
I fought back a yawn as she replied, "The eighth of November."
Ever since that night before Halloween, the moon has been haunting me. I remember that full moon at three in the morning when it was only a tiny sliver of light a few hours earlier. And tonight the moon's going to be slowly growing larger. I'm not crazy.
The moon wasn't following the rules of the lunar cycles and someone knew my whereabouts and what I was doing.
I backed away from my bureau as though it were infected. It's not pleasant to know that someone really is watching you. Especially when it could be the shoddy sod from the bookshop, whom I had no reason whatsoever for being the culprit. I don't even know why I think of him when I feel pursued. Or maybe I had all the reason to suspect him after I spotted him in the car…
I can't believe I thought he was my dad. If I wasn't in denial, I wouldn't be in this sort of situation. My mom's house is too quiet for comfort.
The upper-middle class live in too much isolation from the world. They keep their personal lives under wraps. When they need comfort, they can't find it from anyone else. I need someone to comfort me.
That guy knows where I live.
No one can comfort me now unless they live abroad.
"Maddi, I'll be back in an hour. I have to go look at this one patient." My mom's going to
abandon me in pursuit of her own career. Again.
My initial reaction was to grab my coat and car keys. I need to get out of here if my mom's not going to be here. He knows who I am. "Ok mom. I think I'll go to the bookshop too."
Immediately after I heard the garage doors rumble closed, I bolted down the stairs, through the front door, and outside into the late morning light, just in time to see my mom's BMW turn out of sight. Something fluttered against the mailbox, so I went to look, apprehension flooding me.
It was just a simple white envelope, properly stamped and postmarked with a return address. The only odd thing was the trailing orange ribbon tied around it. And it was addressed to me.
I opened it there in the street, under the soft morning sun, relief flooding through me. Something sane for once.
I read through it once. Then, incredulous, I read it a couple more times. It was written by a Selene who called herself my temporary alter ego. She explained her reason for writing to me by saying that she saw me at the coffee shop that fateful day and how I had chased "the man in black" without knowing what I was getting myself into. She warned me to look out everywhere. She signed it as Selene, with a post script telling me to write back to her in a public place with lots of people, like a book shop.
I shivered as a cold breeze floated through the air and ruffled my hair. It was a bit disconcerting to have in writing what I suspected all along. That guy is out to get me for no reason. And Selene is watching this with enjoyment.
I'm not safe at home. I need to be somewhere safe. I wanted to ask this Selene a few things. It's time to go back to the dreaded bookshop of horrors.
I made a mental note to change the windshield wipers for my car. On the way to the bookshop the sky had suddenly darkened into an ugly grey and a torrential rain was unleashed on my poor little Honda. I almost rear ended someone because I could barely see three feet in front of me. The weather seems to be acting so strangely nowadays, it worries me. But then again, it began on the night before Halloween, in this…
"Did you order this caramel macchiato?"
A waitress about my age pointed to a Styrofoam cup in her hand, breaking into my thoughts.
Shaking my head no, I watched as she apologized and walked away. "I hate when customers order and then walk away. Anyways, I'm sorry. Someone said it was you."
Someone named Selene had sent me a letter, advising me to go to a public place to write back to her. This Selene had watched what I went through that night. This girl wanted me to be safe. And I appreciate that.
"Are you sure you won't take it? Someone said that I should give it to you."
The waitress was back.
"Who told you that?" I stopped writing, a little annoyed now.
"That guy over there with the laptop." She pointed in a direction. "Anyways, I'd just take it. It's a free drink. Pretty warm for a cold day."
Before I had a chance to answer she stalked off, leaving the cup on my table. There was no guy with a laptop where she pointed, but my paranoia was there. Maybe I shouldn't have listened to Selene and gone to the bookshop. Then I took a mental leap – what if Selene was cooperating with him to lure me in?
I sipped my unwelcome drink to warm me up and continued to write to Selene, this time with more cynicism than before. I felt odd writing to a complete stranger, so my letter consisted of vague descriptions of my situation and how I felt about it. I didn't want to appear as though I was completely terrified in case that was what she expected. I can't trust anyone I've never met, and even then, hardly.
Halfway through my reply the back of my neck began to burn and itch like someone was watching me. At first I tried to ignore it, but soon the image of a guy dressed in black with dark messy hair glaring at me consumed my focus. I wrote down my fears and questions all in a moment of apprehension. Then I whipped my head around like a lunatic.
A few people glanced at me with annoyed looks but no one immediately near me spared me a glance. There wasn't anyone who grabbed my attention. Except for a dark retreating figure…
Why does everyone run away from me anyways, I wondered.
There was no way I'd follow him, especially if he was watching me.
But then I'd never get my answers from him. I have no sense of self-preservation, otherwise I'd stay and write. Instead my feet are telling me to run and catch up. It also seems to me as though I'm constantly chasing after someone for the wrong reasons.
Out on the street I didn't see him anywhere. The wet plaza was a blur of colour and motion under a cloudy sky. Just as I was going to give up hope I saw him out of the corner of my eye, barely three feet from me. He was trying to evade me by returning into the bookshop while my back was turned.
"Hey you! Why're you following me?" My voice sounded a lot more frightened than I wanted it to.
He didn't even flinch but continued to the revolving doors of the shop. I chose this moment to hesitate, but I quickly followed him into the set of revolving doors. Sensing something off, he threw me a withering glance through the glass and stepped out of the doors and walked off. Meekly I went back to the café where I left my letter for Selene. She'd better have good answers to my questions.
"Answer me this, why are you so interested in my friend?"
I was shocked out of words because a pretty Asiatic woman was sitting in the seat across from mine. She had short, cropped black hair that framed her round, pale face. Her carmine lips and almond eyes stood out from her features. She wore a dark wool trench coat that accentuated her European nouveau appearance. More importantly, she had my letter in her hands.
"Well, I see you accepted the macchiato. I was annoyed when you turned down the gift more than once. Anyways, I'm Selene."
She held out a hand and waved me to sit down with the other. Even with her Oriental European appearance, I felt vulnerable under her gaze. I sat down after a moment.
"You know who I am. You and your enemy sure do a thorough job of watching people." I was annoyed.
"Well, I do whatever it takes to help a friend out." She smiled, showing white teeth. "You want me to fill you in on a few things?"
I wasn't buying it. "You read my unfinished letter. I don't think you have all the questions you need to inform me properly."
She reached into a black, expensive-looking purse, pulled out a bulging envelope, and handed it to me. "I found these interesting."
I thought they were random newspaper clippings, but upon closer inspection I recognised a few things. First and foremost were two obituary clippings, namely two that belonged to one Pierre B'Noit – my father – and Jacqueline Cassidy-B'Noit – my stepmother. Another was a newspaper clipping that reported the fateful accident that ended their lives with a picture of the wrecked Mercedes-Benz. There were more obituaries for other people as well as a collection of accidents. Car accidents, suicides, drug overdoses, house fires, explosions, drownings, structural collapses. These were newspaper clippings representing a wide spectrum of accidents.
"What's so interesting about these?"
"They're a collection of morbid events and their unfortunate victims, obviously. Now, I bet you can guess where I found this."
I shrugged, playing the antagonist again. "Your purse?"
Her smooth expression didn't flicker at all. "Yes, but before that. I found it falling out of a mysterious man's pocket. Can you guess who now?"
That made sense to me, but I felt a lot less paranoid now that she was here. It was like she was protecting me from him. "So maybe he has a penchant for the morbid. Who are you anyways?"
She gave me a look, probably wondering how dense I am. "I'm Selene, probably your best friend at this moment. I happened to be in the coffee shop that evening you were and I saw the way you chased that man out onto the plaza. Later on, I saw you going into the movie theatre and then I saw him going in after you and your friend. I just wanted to warn you that what he brings with him isn't always good news."
Something sounded pretty suspicious to me. "You know him."
She nodded, as though this were perfectly normal. "I've been following him around recently, trying to remain inconspicuous. He won't know that I'm talking with you."
I straightened up in my chair, remembering that intense glare from a few minutes earlier. "He's closer than you know."
It was her turn to register surprise on her face. "He won't bother me right now."
I returned the envelope to her. "Well, do you think you have the answers that I want?"
She just smiled.
"How well do you know this guy? And what's his name? And why's he following me? What did I do to him?"
"His name's Trent." She just smiled, reaching into her bag again. "I also have this."
She pulled out a sketchbook and flipped it open to a certain page. "This is what I call obsession."
Suddenly I glanced up, feeling a familiar prickly sensation of being watched. Over Selene's shoulder I saw him sitting at a few tables away from us, sipping something and meeting my eyes. I shivered.
I met Selene's wide eyes. She looked horrified. Quickly I looked down at the sketchbook and saw that I was looking at myself.
"I see you made a fool of yourself Selene."
A deep, honey-filled voice quietly addressed Selene from above her shoulder. I was prepared to run in case Selene's protection didn't extend to me.
"I was just watching over her Trent." Selene looked guilty now. "She had a few questions that she wanted answered. Like the first one, why are you following her around. Here, have a seat. I think you already know Madison."
It was my turn to look horrified. "Who are you guys?"
Selene turned to me, smiling. "I didn't lie."
He probably read the horror on my face as an invitation to introduce himself, after a fashion.
"Hello Madison. I give you my condolences for your unfortunate circumstances." He never took his eyes off Selene as he spoke those words. "Why did you contact her?"
Selene looked down at the bag in her lap as though she were searching for a hidden exit inside it. "I had my reasons."
"Merde. You are the worst," he quietly growled. "You had no right to show her those."
I couldn't stay quiet and watch this woman get into trouble for trying to help me. "Yes she did."
He stopped and finally looked at me, unleashing the fury behind his eyes on me. "Oh?"
I pushed my cup of coffee around the table. "I don't like people following me."
"You're such a conceited girl!" he hissed. "I could have been following that cousin of yours. I actually spoke with him and only saw you in passing."
"Trent, please." Selene interjected on my behalf. "Just tell her."
He pinched the bridge of his nose, looking up at the ceiling as though he were stressed.
"I have my own reasons to believe your parents' deaths weren't an accident caused by some drunkard." He grabbed the pile of newspaper clippings and tucked them inside his jacket. "Can you believe that?"
No. I absolutely couldn't believe that. This sod's lying. "What?"
Selene smiled and Trent sighed. "You're so naive. Do I have to lay everything on the table for you? Come with me."
They both got up and looked down at me. Selene gave her hair a curt shake and then grabbed my arm. "Please little girl."
To an outsider, this must look like a voluntary kidnapping because I quickly jumped up and allowed Selene to hook her arm around mine. She directed me towards the revolving doors, after Trent.
"Where are you taking me?"
"Anywhere but neverwhere," was the nonsensical reply from Trent.
"I'm taking you anywhere."
Selene caught my eye and winked. "You'll see."
As she said that, she unhooked her arm from around mine and then briskly strode back to the bookshop, leaving me alone by this guy's side. Terrified of being left alone with him, I was getting ready to sprint back to the shop when he grabbed my wrist, meeting my eyes with a scolding stare.
"Anywhere, you said?" I managed to choke out.
He began walking again, towing me with him. Every step he took, I had to take one and a half. In this awkward way, we both went into a cobblestone alleyway.
"You have short legs."
He managed to hurt me twice within a couple minutes of meeting me. Just as I expected of him. "I can run faster than you with these short legs, I bet."
He snorted. "Keep up. We're going somewhere."
I started to drag my feet because he insulted me. "Why aren't you waiting for Selene?"
"This isn't her business. She interfered thus far, I don't think she'll do it again so soon. She's just getting a rise out of this." We emerged from the alley in a parking lot.
"You said you don't think my parents' deaths were an accident?"
We walked to a dark corner of the lot, stopping in front of a shiny black car.
"You talk too much. Get in."
If I thought someone's parents' deaths weren't an accident, I'd go ahead and tell them before they come at me with a knife. I felt like I was behaving quite well, given the circumstances. The locks clicked into place inside the car.
"Don't you dare open your mouth again or I will take you back to Selene."
I wouldn't mind that.
"Your parents didn't die normally. I wouldn't trust your lawyer either."
He put the car into drive. I didn't know where he was taking me, but I could feel his anger coming off his body, making tight coils inside the car, suffocating me. I dared not make a noise.
"You shouldn't wander around alone." He stared straight ahead, his tousled hair falling slightly into his eyes. "You never know what kind of danger might await you."
I stared at him. "No one's going to hurt me. I can take care of myself."
He turned and stared at me, both hands still on the wheel. "Your mom works long hours. You live in a big house, basically by yourself. There are at least fifteen different entrances into the condo. What makes you think you can take care of yourself when there's someone pinning you down?"
"I took self-defence classes."
He laughed and turned back to the road. "Little girls shouldn't act older than they are. Now go inside and lock all your windows and doors."
He stopped the car and I realized we were in my driveway already. I turned and stared at him incredulously. "Why are you watching me, anyways? You're basically a stalker."
"You have the greyest eyes I've ever seen." He leaned closer. "Do they always glaze over whenever you're annoyed?"
"Thanks for the ride." Freak, I thought. "And for your information, my eyes are green."
I stomped up to the porch, catching his reflection in the glass of the front door. He was watching me intently, a smirk on his face. I slammed the door behind me.
But I couldn't help but look out again.
Except he was already gone. What a freak.