Real…fake…imaginary…ghost…in my head…actually there…little girl…middle aged man…young woman…monster…she could be any and all of these, and to me, they all seemed equally likely. Who was she, what was she, why me, why now? What did she want from me…1

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle? You'll never leave me…")2

"Stop it…go away…" I almost whispered, and I hated the tears I heard in my voice, almost as much as I hated the choked fear freezing my throat, the complete paralysis locking my limbs, keeping me on the floor with my head against my knees instead of doing something, taking action, taking this apart however I had to. "Leave me alone…just shut up and leave me alone…"3

And for a few seconds Marianna did. For a few seconds she actually went quiet. She stopped knocking on the door, stopped calling out…she was just quiet. Enough that I lifted my head slowly and listened, a new fear gripping my chest…because it was too much now, too sudden…too silent. 4

Why so silent…why had she actually listened, when nothing I'd done before had meant shit to her?5

I stopped leaning all my weight against the door, listening, muscles tensed, anticipating. I even considered calling out to her…because what if she had disappeared?6

I didn't know if I wanted more for her to have done that or not…or which would scare me more. 7

I sat up a little further, still struggling to decide what to do…and then almost jumped across the hallway. Because after that almost full minute of silence, Marianna started to scream. 8

She didn't use words, like she had when she called for me to let her out. She was just screaming, shrill, wordless shrieks so full of pain and fear, of panic- of TORMENT- that I jumped, my heart skipping a beat before starting up its frantic pounding all over again. God, I couldn't stand the sound of it…what was WRONG with her that she would do this, what was wrong with her that she would make a sound like that, like she was actively being tortured, as I stood and heard it on the other side of the door? Why…god, oh god, why was this happening to me…why…9

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")10

"Stop it," I said in a raspy monotone, then raised my voice, knowing she wouldn't hear me over the volume of her screams. Knowing she wouldn't listen even if she did. "Stop it…Marianna, stop it, stop it!"11

But she kept going on and on, and it felt to me like each new screech was stabbing me in the eardrums, skewering all the way through my head. She was almost sobbing now, her screams broken up by tears, softening it a little, and I was really starting to freak out. This…I couldn't do this, I couldn't listen to this. I couldn't…12

What if people heard her? Surely they heard her, the apartment walls were so thin. What if they called the police on me? Yeah they'd take her off my hands, but how fucking bad would it be for me to have a beat up kid locked in my bathroom, screaming her head off? My ass would be in prison so fast I wouldn't have time to open my mouth. Or what if they came breaking in, guns drawn, and when they opened the bathroom door Marianna had disappeared? They'd think I was insane.13

I wasn't so sure they wouldn't be right.14

And what if she was real after all, somehow, some way…what if she was really hurt, or there was someone in the bathroom with her, or…god, I couldn't take this, she was screaming and screaming and I couldn't take it, she had to stop. She just had to STOP.15

Without any warning or further thoughts, I stood up jerkily, fumbling for the doorknob, and threw open the door. She had to stop, she had to stop, she just had to STOP…16

The minute I opened the door Marianna's screaming stopped, as if she had known and predicted when I would so exactly that she could cut herself off at that same moment. She was sitting on the floor, hunched over, hugging her legs to her chest, her long hair covering most of her face…but when she looked up through the near curtain of dark hair, she smiled at me, a slow, incredibly vicious smile. A smile that I have never thought possible to see on a kid's face. It was sad and sweet, earnest and relieved…but also triumphant and amused, cold and cruel, and every sort of emotion all at once, and I couldn't understand why…I had never seen anything like it before.17

Except once. Only in one person…only…18

She unfolded her arms from around her legs slowly, keeping her head lifted now, staring me straight in the eye. And then…then, she spread her legs apart…and there was a dark red stain, marking the crotch of her pants…a stain that was also jarringly familiar. A stain I recognized as blood.19

I found myself shaking my head, my voice caught in my throat, unable to back away, to turn away, as an unwelcome barrage of images, of memories, flitted unasked for through my mind. And I couldn't stop it…I couldn't tear my gaze away. I couldn't' do anything but stare into her face, stare at the blood between her legs, and frantically try to deny it all, to thrust it away from me.20

She was still watching me, looking me straight in the eye…she was looking at me so hard, not blinking, and she was just a little girl, but she wasn't, she wasn't a girl at all, she was grown, and old, and she wasn't female at all, it was a man, a man's eyes, a man's cruel smile, a man's pleasure at my fear, my disgust…no! No, she wasn't a man…not a girl…not...god, what WAS she?21

"It's okay, Heather…it's how I show you how much I love you," Marianna said softly, distinctly, her legs still parted, the stain spreading visibly as she held my eyes with hers. "Don't you love me, Heatherbelle…don't you know how much I love you?"22

Face flitting before me, eyes soft with concern, gentle hands, growling voice…pain, god, pain, like an icepick, rough hands wiping tears, touching my cheek…touching…23

("Don't you know how much I love you?")24

"No," I whispered, and my voice was so faint, so unsteady, I wasn't sure I'd spoken aloud at all. "No…I…no…"25

Dark eyes holding mine…dark, then blue. Hers, then mine…hers, then his…26

"You still love me," she…it…said, and it was all of them, Marianna, him, me, all of us there, all of us looking at me, all of us speaking in Marianna's childish tone. "Don't you still love him, Heather? You do…I can see it. Even though you killed him."27

Blood slowly leaving my face, draining down to the tips of my fingers, settling in my feet…I am light, reeling, yet leaden, weighted down, and it's real…this is real…it's him, he's back, he's back, and he's me, who I was, and who I wanted to be, all at once he's everything, and he knows…she knows…I know…28

"It's okay, Heather," it is saying, the thing that is all of us, the thing with a child's face and form but our eyes, our eyes and my father's words, my words, our thoughts.29

"It's okay, Heather…we'll make sure you keep your promise," it says softly, and it is beginning to stand, one hand stretched toward me as I tightly grip the door. "We'll make sure you never leave him…won't we, Heatherbelle?"30

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")31

("No, Daddy…")32

("No, Daddy…")33

("No…")34

("Daddy…")35

("No…")36

("Daddy…")37

("Daddy…")38

Red dots flashed before my eyes. They shone me before me, and a roaring filled my ears. My muscles tensed, my mouth opened, and I took a step forward…39

And then…it changed. Blackness. And all the voices, all the things, all the people that she was, were gone.40

There was nothing. 41

When I could see again, I was sitting on the floor, leaned back against something flat and hard, probably a wall. It took several moments for everything to slowly refocus back into my vision, into my ability to feel again. My eyes were open, but everything was blurred and indistinguishable before me, like I was seeing through a heavy fog.43

I began to become aware again of the wall behind my back, the coldness of the tiles against my bare feet, seeping through my jeans to my ass. I felt that my legs were parted slightly, sticking out in front of me, my arms limp and heavy at my sides, and my head was bowed so low my chin nearly touched my chest. As greater feeling returned to my body I became aware, vaguely at first, then with greater discomfort, that my clothes were wet and sticky in spots.44

What the hell…45

I sat up more fully, making the conscious effort now to better focus my eyes, trying to remember, to make some sort of sense out of where I was and what was going on. I vaguely remembered drinking, and even now my temples were pulsing pretty freakin' hard…maybe I'd passed out drunk?46

I saw the tile floor clearly first, because that was where my eyes were directed. I realized dimly that the tile was the same as the kind in my bathroom, giving credibility to the hypothesis about passing out drunk. I could have come in to throw up, maybe hit my head.47

I started to lift a hand to feel the back of my head, but stopped before I had even touched my head, my hand hovering in midair. Shock swept over me so suddenly and sickeningly that I had to swallow rising nausea that came over me strongly, taking gulping breaths.48

This couldn't be real. This couldn't be happening to me. This couldn't be…49

There was a little girl on the bathroom floor, lying half curled on her side. Her eyes were open, her long dark hair spilled in a disarray around her head, and her arms were clearly badly broken, bruises deeply marking her arms and throat and eyes. Deep cuts marred her face and limbs, and from the stains on her clothes, it looked like serious wounds marked her torso too. Blood was splattered at my feet, across the wall, dripping from the closed shower curtain behind her, a red so bright against the white that my eyes burned. She lay still, with those broken limbs, with her bloodied body, with red liquid still slowly gathering under her head and back and legs…50

She lay there, and her chest did not rise and fall, her eyes did not blink, and she did not moan or cry out in pain. She lay there, and I knew she was dead.51

It all began to come back to me then…the persistent ringing on my doorbell…the wide-eyed child at my door, the solemn little girl with her knowing ways and bruised limbs. The little girl with her questions, with her evasions of answers, the child with the name uncomfortably close to my own…Marianna. Marianna, with my memories, my words, and his…Marianna, with my father's tone. Marianna, with my father's eyes.52

Her eyes were open now. They were brown. Dark brown, not pale blue. Not like ours at all…but they had been. They had been. They had…53

Slowly my eyes drifted over her, head to toe, almost breathless, my eyes scratchy, hot, and aching, my chest heavy and thick inside, seeming somehow sound and solid enough now to make my rapid heartbeat sound slower and softer than it felt like it was. I half expected her to blink, to move, to sit up and look at me, to scare the hell out of me one final time…or at least to disappear. To just not be there at all. At the very least the blood could go away. At the very least she could not look so broken, so small, so…so…54

Real. Even in the hazy slow manner that I was thinking, the distance that my feelings seemed to be coming from, not fully connecting to me, I thought she looked real. And she couldn't be. Because if she was real…if all of this was real…then there was a dead little girl in my bathroom now. A murdered little girl, from the looks of it. And that…that would mean…55

I couldn't finish the thought, even in my own head. My eyes dragging over the child's body, my breath began to stagger…the cuts on her face and legs and arms, on her chest and stomach….they were uneven and raw, like something less…neat…than a knife had done it. 56

My eyes moved across the bathroom floor, now fully taking in the blood splattered across its surface…and there was so much of it, god…and there…glass. There was glass…shards from a glass bottle, big, broken pieces in the blood, glass shards, like, the same color as…57

Yes. There was a bottle of tequila, or what was still pieced together of the bottle, over by the toilet, almost wedged behind it.58

A bottle…like the ones in my fridge. Like the ones I'd been drinking from.59

My own breathing was too loud, too strained and gulping, joining my heartbeat in echoing through my head, knocking against my ears. I looked down at myself, and saw the red splattered over my shirt, my pants, my arms…my hands…feet…blood. Her blood. Marianna's blood…on me. On me…it was on me, but how…what…60

This was not real. This was not. This was…61

"This is not real," I said out loud, and the hoarseness of my own voice scared me, almost making me jump. I tried to clear my throat, to repeat myself more firmly. "This is not real. It's not."62

But she was still there…Marianna, or whoever she was. She was still there, and her eyes still stared, all life gone out of them. She was there on my floor with her broken body and the cuts from something sharp, something like glass, and the glass was there, glass from my bottle, and there was blood, blood on me, blood on her, and she was there.63

She was there.64

I stared at her for a few more seconds…and then, with a sudden jerky movement, my hand shot out, and I gripped her hand, ignoring the stickiness of the blood on my hand, on her cheek. I grabbed her chin and touched her…and she was solid, cool, but not lifelike. Not quite like a human, a living breathing being.65

But she was real. She was real.66

It was true. Didn't' know who, didn't know what…but there was a little girl here, and her eyes were brown, not blue. She wasn't a man, wasn't a woman, she wasn't, she was dead, and she was really here, and she was dead…67

And her blood was on my hands.68

My breath came faster and faster until I hunched forward, head spinning rapidly, so light and dizzy I could barely hold it up. Nausea hit me hard and I lurched for the toilet, barely able to lean over it in time. After I sat shaking, eyes tightly shut, sweat beginning to stick my already blood-stained clothes even more closely against my skin, and I shook my head weakly, hair scraggling past my shoulders and hanging in skinny strands in front of me.69

No. I didn't…she wasn't…I didn't do this. I didn't do this, I would never…she had been someone else, she hadn't…she wasn't really a child. She couldn't have been a child, she wasn't…I didn't…I wouldn't have hurt a child. I couldn't have. I wouldn't…I didn't kill a child.70

But she was there, and it was her, just her and me here. My bottle, her blood…and I was so afraid.71

("Stop, Heather…stop, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!")72

("Heather, you're hurting me! Heather, please, stop, please, HEATHER STOP NOOOO!")73

("Daddy…help me, Daddy, DADDY!")74

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")75

There was a weird rattling through my chest, a shaking that hurt…I didn't realize until the first tear hit the thigh of my pants that I was crying. I looked over at Marianna, at the little girl's open eyes and ruined form, and I didn't understand, but I knew. 76

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")77

"It's your fault," I whispered, my voice cracking. I tore my eyes from her, raising them to the ceiling. "It's your fault. You did this. You tricked me…you made me."78

Breathing in. Out. Hurting chest, stinging eyes, tears mingling with blood. I can't move.79

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")80

"It's your fault," I said, a little louder, and I sat up more fully, directing my gaze upward. "It's your fault. It was you…you made me. It was you."81

Quiet. Breathing, weird whistling noise in my chest. Hurting, my head, it kills…no, it doesn't, it just…it…82

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")83

"FUCK YOU!" I screamed, jerking upright, and I hit the wall, slamming my foot hard against the floor, then punched the wall again. "FUCK YOU, YOU DID THIS, YOU MADE ME, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU! YOU CAN'T HAVE ME, YOU CAN'T DO THIS, NOT ANYMORE, I HATE YOU!!!!"84

I was crying hard now, snot and tears smearing over my lips and chin, and I hugged my knees to my chest, burying my face against them. For a long time I just tried to breathe, just tried to stop crying, to be okay, and I told myself over and over. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay…85

When the tears had stopped and all I could hear was the steady thud of my heart, the rasping of my breath, the occasional snuffling of my forcing back further tears, I heard it as if it were far away, soft, almost a caress.86

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")87

"But I will," I said aloud, lifting my face slowly. "I will."88

I sat up, my eyes drifting over the interior of the room. The broken bottle was there, right within my grasp, and I knew what I had to do. It was okay…it was good.89

It was right.90

Grasping it slowly, I sat back against the wall, taking a deep breath…and as I held the sharpest of the shards to my left wrist, I kept my eyes on the little girl less than a foot away from me. Her eyes were open, and I knew that she was watching me too. She deserved to. 91

It didn't hurt, not really. It was more like a release, a slipping away, an escape by just a little pain…and even as the blood came heavier, a smile curled my lips.92

("You'll never leave me, will you, Heatherbelle?")93

("No Daddy…I'll never leave you.")94

It felt so good to break that promise.95

The end96