And to all a good night
Author notes: Prequel to "Two of a Kind" and all other Rikarah Pallaton stories.
She didn't plan for it to happen, something that later surprised her. Oh, she had daydreamed and imagined, harboring idle fantasies and vivid imaginings in both her waking and sleeping hours of the nature of the very incidents which were to occur. But dreams were not reality, and the fact that it became as such without a plan was more shocking to Susannah than the fact that it came about at all.
Usually Susannah Pallis was known for her careful and meticulous nature, for her sharp mind missing no detail in the event of any work that needed to be done and what she much accomplish to carry it out effectively. She was known by most, if they noticed or remembered her quiet presence at all, to be a soft-spoken young girl, well-behaved and polite, mature beyond her years. Others knew her to be an excellent student, a responsible citizen, and often uncannily accurate in her ability to read and react off of the moods and emotions of others. Susannah was not what one might consider a popular girl among her peers or even her teachers, but few disliked her. Few knew her well enough to feel any sort of strong emotion towards her at all.
Regardless of how well or poorly they knew her, however, most acquaintances of Susanna Eve Pallis would harbor the opinion that if faced with a decision that would change the course of her life, Susannah would been the sort of girl to plan rather than act upon impulse. Susannah herself would undoubtedly have expressed the same opinion.
But that day was different in a way Susannah herself, even in hindsight, could not quite understand. And once it had begun, it was too late to turn back…and entirely too pleasurable.
It was Christmas Even in the Pallis household, but for 17-year-old Susannah, this indicated very little change. Of course, the interior of the home looked different from usual. Her mother, Laurel Pallis, had been working steadily since Thanksgiving to bedeck their home with Christmas frivalry, with an air of desperation that seemed more obvious and prevalent to Susannah each day, as if her mother believed that the more merriment surrounded them, the more she herself would feel, and was more disappointed with each day to find this to be false.
There were red candles trimmed with garland on the coffee table, ribboned wreaths at several doors, cut out snowflakes on the kitchen cabinets and stuffed Santas and elves stashed on the countertop. Garland lined the stair bannister, fake snow sprinkled across the fireplace front, and photos of Susannah and her 15-year-old sister, Isabella, as children visiting Santa in the mall lined the mantle. In the living room's corner their Christmas tree glistened with glass balls and bells, candy canes and garland, tinsel and colored lights, and the angel at its top smiled down benevolently upon them all from her perch. At the tree's base sat a Nativity model; the angel was missing its wing, for Susannah had broken it long ago as a child, playing with the figures inside.
Each day over the past week Laurel had been cleaning house, though no relatives or friends would be coming to see it, creating more decorations to join the mass, and cooking large quantities of cookies, cakes, and pies that for the most part would go uneaten. Susannah suspected that this too was deliberate, an attempt to continue to bury herself away from her family, to continue to deafen her ears and blind her eyes. There may be different scenery and more food over the past few weeks, but the circumstances in the Pallis house remained unchanged.
In more ways than one. Susannah had dreaded the start of the Christmas break; she enjoyed school and attending it not for love of academics or classes or even fellowship with peers, but for the escape from her home that it provided for eight hours each day…escape from her family. Now with the two weeks of home time that stretched ahead of her she could only spend each day in dread and disgust, counting the days until the new year.
Susannah did her best throughout the day to stay away from Isabella, her sister, a girl as unlike her as seemed possible, to the extent that Susannah sometimes questioned her true paternity. In the night, when Harry Pallis, her father, returned home, she tried to find reasons to be outside the home, and failing that, stayed in her own room. But there were no locks on any doors in the Pallis home, and it was not easy to shut them out, if they wished to enter Susannah's space. And very often, that was exactly what they did.
It was a Christmas Eve night quite typical of the Pallis family; while Laurel remained in the kitchen, feverishly preparing the meal for the following day, and Isabella alternated between flipping channels on TV, whining about not being allowed to go out, or restlessly drifted about, making sarcastic comments to anyone she encountered, Susannah attempted to remain undisturbed in her room, away from the others. Harry Pallis in particular. He had gotten off early from work for the holiday, and Susannah knew her efforts were likely wasted; he would eventually notice her absence and seek her out.
It was a prediction that proved, as usual, to be correct when he opened her door unannounced at some point in the early evening, strolling inside with his head lifted high and an easy smile curving his lips. Harry, if he noticed his daughter stiffening and sitting up straighter on her bed, certainly did not care or attempt to ease her wariness of him; if anything he smiled more widely as he carelessly plopped himself onto her bed. Susannah slid her feet away from him quickly, making her expression like stone as she lifted her chin, determined to show no emotion.
"Hey there Suzy, how's my girl?" he asked with a hearty chuckle, and Susannah did not fail to notice that he slid himself closer towards her, his hand resting in close proximity to her leg.
"Fine," she responded neutrally, her eyes fixed on his hand. She despised being called Suzy, a fact that her other family members seemed oblivious to, and she particularly despised being called her father's girl. There was nothing to be gained, however, in voicing this.
"Fine? Well that's certainly a true statement if I ever heard one…one thing I definitely succeeded at in life is creating one FINE young woman," her father remarked, his eyes drifting over her form, and Susannah's skin itched with her urge to cover herself, to shield herself from his view. Though she was wearing a shirt that was not at all revealing, and she was not exactly abundantly blessed in the chest area in the first place- as her more endowed sister Isabella so often pointed out- she felt as if her father could see through her clothing and was greatly enjoying the sight. Corny as his remarks always were, they nevertheless did not fail to disgust and disturb her.
"Thanks, Dad," she said flatly, crossing her arms, her eyes hard in spite of her efforts to remain unmoved as she briefly met his eyes. "But what about Isabella?"
"Oh, your sister too," Harry added, nodding; strangely enough, Susannah's sister garnered little interest for him, at least from what she could tell, unlike she herself, though she was older, smaller, more boyish in form, and considerably less receptive to her father's awkward advances.
Though Isabella often pleaded for his attention, showering him with compliments and touch, it was not she, but Susannah who he repeatedly pursued; Isabella in contrast as often barely acknowledged, brushed aside by Harry as an afterthought, as though he had no interest in anyone so easily won over. Susannah had thought before that it could be because of this, Isabella's jealousy over their father's preference for Susannah, that provoked her spite. Such insight did not help having to live with either of them, though.
"But you, Susannah…you are certainly one beautiful being," he continued, his voice dropping almost to a whisper, in a tone that Susannah suspected was supposed to be seductive. As her father's hand inched over, than slid across her thigh, she clinched her jaw, a flash of anger striking through her, and then abruptly stood, striding towards the door.
"I'm going to help Mom. She's been working all day, she could use the company."
She meant for her spoken words to sound like a threat, but both Susannah and her father knew even as she said it that it was no true threat at all. Susannah's mother would never leave him or bring about any sort of consequence on him, no matter what Susannah told her. She had tried repeatedly, in several different ways, and with varying degrees of urgency, to tell her mother about her father's behavior with her, to try to spur her to some form of action, any action. But Laurel Pallis's responses to her daughter's words varied between outright denial and disbelief and a passive, helpless refusal to act, a weak assurance to her that her father meant no harm and would never do anything to really hurt her.
"He loves you, Suzy," she said limply, when Susannah told her of his lingering glances and brushing hands, his double-edged compliments and invasions of privacy. "He just thinks you're smart and pretty and wants to be with you. That's all."
It was true that Harry had never physically hurt his daughter, never hit or grabbed her or swore at her, never threatened her or tore at her clothes. He had never touched her when she was undressed or forced her to touch him, and he had never raped her. Susannah didn't think he had the nerve, when it came down to it. But the suggestion was there; she could sense his desire, and the end result was that she felt almost as betrayed and violated as if he had.
Her mother was in the kitchen still as Susannah approached her, bent over the oven as she checked the temperature of what looked like some sort of cobbler. Susannah came up behind her quietly, waiting for her to straighten and notice her presence. When she did, Laurel started, her eyes widening, and put a hand over her chest with a gasp.
"Goodness, Susannah, I didn't know you were there," she said nervously, giving her daughter a quick smile that didn't meet her eyes.
"I just came in," Susannah said quietly; as her mother closed the oven door, she exhaled, already mostly resigned to the response she knew would come before she'd ever said a word.
"Mom. Dad came into my room a few minutes ago and was looking at me…in an inappropriate manner," she said quietly, knowing even as she spoke how lame and unconvincing her words sounded to any who had not been there to see. "He kept saying what a beautiful young woman I was…and he lay his hand on my thigh. He's still doing it, Mom. I really think you need to do something, or someone does, because…this isn't stopping on its own."
Laurel glanced at her daughter again, but just as quickly looked away, refusing to meet her eyes. When she spoke her voice was high, anxious, and shaking slightly, and Susannah knew it was hopeless.
"I, I'm sure you just misunderstood, Susannah. And, and, his hand, I'm sure it was an accident, or, or showing affection, or-"
"No, Mom, it wasn't like that," she insisted, even as her stomach twisted bitterly, recognizing her defeat. "You need to do something. Dad is sick, Dad is-"
"Are you bitching about Dad AGAIN, Suzy?" came the voice of Susannah's sister accusingly as she slunk into the room, eyes narrowed, her voice much louder and more accusing than her mother's. Putting her hands on her hips, she leveled a stare at Susannah that managed to simultaneously encompass a smirk, a glare, and mocking all at once.
"You're such a delusional little bitch, SUZY. You think you're such a hot little number that every dick in town is following after you panting your name, even your own DAD? What the hell is wrong with you, don't you even look in the mirror? You've got no hips, no boobs, no ass, you're like the size of a Life Size Barbie doll, what man would ever want you and your screwy Oedipus complex?" Isabella sneered, her glossy mouth pulled almost into a snarl, her blue eyes glinting viciously as she tossed back her long blonde hair and quirked an eyebrow in seeming triumph.
Susannah didn't point out that in the case of females it was the Electra complex, not Oedipus, that referred to the condition Isabella was talking about. She didn't reply to her sister's taunts, though her blood was boiling and her back teeth ached from the pressure of their grinding. She simply took a slow breath, even a rage danced behind carefully veiled eyes, and asked her mother if there was anything she could do to help.
For perhaps another five minutes Susannah managed, through keeping herself busy by washing dishes, to avoid Harry Pallis's presence, though Isabella, lounging at the kitchen counter and making cutting remarks and criticisms to everything she did, was an unpleasant and unwelcome consequence. Her efforts were blown, however, when Harry sauntered into the kitchen, smiling at each of the others present in turn in his most charming manner- which wasn't very charming- before addressing Laurel, even as his eyes remained on Susannah's backside from where she was turned towards the sink.
"Thought I'd see if you girls need any help in here…anything I can do?"
"We're fine, Dad," Susannah said quickly, her eyes jumping to her mother's with a meaningful stare, but Laurel smiled, seemingly oblivious to her daughter.
"Oh, how nice, Harry…yes, you can help Susannah, you can dry for her while she washes."
"I'm fine, Mom," Susannah tried again, but her father had already sidled over to the sink, standing much closer to her than was necessary as he looked down at her. Susannah could feel Isabella's eyes on them, watching sharply, even as her mother's skipped away.
She heard Isabella mutter 'whore' under her breath before saying more loudly, "Yeah, Daddy, Suzy can use all the help she can get."
"No shame in accepting help, Suzy," her father said quietly, and Susannah stared at the cup in her hands, scrubbing it harder without replying. "I'll always be here to help with anything you need, or anything you want…even if you didn't know you want it yet."
The insinuation behind this rang in Susannah's ears loud and clear, and she pulled as far away from him as possible, heart thudding, veins already hot with her rush of increased blood flow. She hated him so damn much…she hated all of them, every single one who called themselves her family. Every. Single. One.
It didn't take two minutes for it to happen. As Susannah rinsed off a particularly long and sharp knife, being careful not to cut herself, she felt her father's hand on her backside, the touch quick, nervous, but deliberate…and with this sensation, and the knife still held in her hand, she reacted without further thought.
Whipping around to face Harry, the knife still clinched tightly in her fist, Susannah brought its point to her father's throat, tightly seizing his shoulder with her other hand, and her dark eyes bore into his with deadly serious intent as she spoke tersely, ignoring the gasps of her other family members.
"Do not EVER touch me again."
"Whoa…Suzy, whoa, now see here, there's no call for that!" Harry sputtered, going very still as his eyes darted between the knife at his throat and the apparent intent of his daughter to use it. "You just-"
"Say it," Susannah repeated, her expression not softening, her voice hissing, fierce, and the knife at her father's throat did not budge. "Say you will never touch me again…or I will kill you."
Her father swallowed, eyes focused on the knife, muscles tensed, and sweat began to bead on his forehead. Nearby Laurel and Isabella Pallis were watching in shock, mouths open, eyes wide, but Susannah paid them no attention. She had eyes only for her father's, and she did not let him pull away.
"Suzy, "he began again, his voice less steady than before. "Suzy, there's no need for this-"
"Say it," Susannah cut him off, hand tightening on his shoulder, the knife moving a fraction of an inch closer, nearly touching his throat. Behind her Laurel and Isabella finally found their voices.
"Susannah…Susannah, stop, no," her mother whispered, her hand drifting to cover her mouth, the baking Christmas goods forgotten. "It's Christmas, Susannah, stop…"
"You're crazy, Suzy! Stop it!" Isabella yelled over her, her voice sharp and shrill. "Put that down, get away from him!"
"Say it," Susannah repeated, ignoring them all, disregarding any reply but that she was searching for as she continued to stare her father down. "Say it. Now."
"Suzy-" her father began, and it was the new cunning in this tone, his new attempt to turn around the situation, to manipulate her, that only heightened Susannah's anger. "Suzy, let's try to talk about this-"
She pricked him with the knife, just enough for the pain to be felt, for the first drop of blood to bead up on its blade, and her mother gasped, her sister screamed.
"Susannah, stop it, Susannah, you crazy bitch!"
"Okay, okay, Suzy, just stop this, just calm down. It's Christmas…we don't need to be like this. Just…just calm down…" Harry backed off hurriedly, his eyes shimmering with fear and what looked like submission…but still, something in his tone, in a quiet flicker of his eyes, did not lower her guard, and she did not move her knife away.
With good reason, it turned out. Less than a half minute after he spoke Harry roughly shot out his arm, attempting to strike Susannah in the solar plexus. But Susannah was ready, and even as he hit out at her, she slashed the knife across his throat, cutting deeply. Staring into her father's bulging, anguished eyes, almost relishing the feel of the hot, sticky blood dripping down her cheeks, soaking into her blouse and drying on her skin from the spray of the wound's opening, she ignored the guttural gurglings of his attempt to speak, stepping back from his grasping hand.
"My name, "she said softly, deliberately, "is not Suzy."
Behind her, both her mother and sister were screeching in shock and horror, faces drained of all color as they alternately gawked between Susannah and Harry, her stone cold eyes and slightly curved lips, his twitching form and gasps for breath as his hand weakly covered his gushing throat, as he choked on his own blood. Laurel's scream cut off as if someone was choking here after only a couple of seconds, but Isabella's continued, forceful and shrill, and then turned into words that were barely understandable in their hysterical tone.
"You killed him, you killed Dad! You crazy bitch, how could you, how could you!? How dare you!"
Still screaming, blindly enraged at this injustice, Isabella ran towards her sister, eyes wild, almost electric with emotion, hands extended so that her fingers were curled in a manner that resembled claws, as if she intended to scratch her eyes out. Without hesitating Susannah's knife met her head on, plunging into the younger girl's chest all the way to the hilt. As Isabella howled, her voice rising even higher than before, Susannah roughly gripped her shoulder, bracing herself so that she could pull the knife from her and use it to quickly slash her throat in the same manner she had her father's.
Letting her sister's choking form drop to the floor with casual seeming indifference, her heart beating rapidly and without rhythm in her chest, her face flushed now with rising excitement even as she struggled not to show it, not to smile, Susannah turned towards her mother. The woman had cowered back against the fridge, without screaming, without making a sound, her eyes so huge she looked close to bursting a blood vessel. She did not speak, did not beg, though tears glistened in her eyes. And as Susannah took a step towards her slowly, the bloodied knife gripped in her hands, she did not try to appeal to her.
Instead, she bolted, fleeing out the kitchen and into the hall with the panicky instincts of prey who knows all too well the predator's skill. It was a useless attempt. In less than ten seconds Susannah had her cornered against the wall, her smaller but stronger body hovering close, one hand on the woman's shoulder as she held the knife to her throat, resolve without pity in her dark gaze. As Laurel Pallis gulped for breath, her eyes beseeching, she struggled for words, pleading her daughter.
"Do not ask what you always knew," Susannah said softly, her words close to her ear, almost gentle. "You would not hear before. It is much too late to listen now."
One swift cut and Laurel too was fallen, breathing her last on the narrow hallway floor. As Susannah looked about her at the blood-spattered walls, at her own streaked hands and arms and her clothes, stained beyond all possible washing, she realized that her chest was heaving with rapid, shallow breaths, her heart knocking loudly inside her, and her face felt hot…but her hands were steady, and she was not upset. She was not afraid. Far from it…she was quite calm, even satisfied…she was pleased. Happy…for the first time that she could remember, she was happy.
A slow smile curled her lips, gradually growing until she was nearly grinning, and Susannah barely restrained herself from laughing aloud. She had never felt so vindicated, so victorious, so very alive, in the face of violence and death. This gave her greater joy than any Christmas season ever had…if she had only known, she could have had a much jollier season, so much the earlier.
Walking back into the kitchen, she looked over at the prone bodies of her father and sister. Her father was dead, eyes open, staring, but Isabella's mouth was moving, words attempting to form on her lips. Eyes narrowed, Susannah shook her head as she made her way over to her, kneeling beside her.
"You always did have to have the last word, didn't you?"
One more slash and the girl's agony was finally brought to an end…but Susannah found herself unable to stop. With increasingly rapid, frenzied motions she sunk the knife into her sister's form, ripping it out only to once more plunge it down. Moving to her father, she stabbed him repeatedly, even more viciously than she had her sister.
When she finally sat back on her heels, the blade of the knife had been dulled and what remained of the bodies was almost unrecognizable as human flesh. Both Isabella and Harry's heads were attached to their necks only by the barest sinews, so they appeared to be nearly decapitated, so cruelly had their throats been slashed. As Susannah regarded them, her breathing evening, her respiration slowing, the high color fading from her cheeks, an idea came to her…an absolutely perfect display.
She had not intended to do this…but now that she had, she could hardly believe she hadn't done it before. Had she known it would be so easy, so fast, so enjoyable…why, she would have planned it much sooner, much more elaborately. But there was no use regretting what was done. She had done it in this manner, and she could still make the best of it. She could still make this a thing of beauty…a work of art.
With careful touch Susannah took her knife and sat beside her father's body, heedless of the blood newly soaking into her clothes as she got to work.
When her careful work was finished, Susannah stood back and appraised it with approving eyes, smiling with pleasure at her own results. It was better this way…it made a statement, and it was more visually striking, more interesting to the viewing eye. As a straight A student of all art classes offered at her high school, Susannah knew quality avante garde art when she saw it, and she had created a masterpiece.
And it was much more practical too. The way she had it now it would be easier to pack up and display when she moved, and she would certainly have to move today. In her new apartment, in a new city, she would harbor this secret, displayed proudly for her own eyes…her first of what even now, Susannah suspected, was soon to be a gallery.
As she considered a new name for herself, a name befitting of signing onto such work in the future, a name that was better suited to the work and to herself, it came to her with seemingly no source of inspiration, perfect nevertheless. Rikarah…Rikarah Pallaton. It was exactly right for her new work, her new life…her new self.
Smiling, Rikarah Pallaton regarded her endeavors for just a few moments more. Three heads sat before her, their stumped necks freshly cleaned, hair neatly brushed and arranged. The man's face, first in line, was missing his eyes, his sockets sewn shut. The woman was next, and her hair was pulled back to reveal missing ears, stitches marking their remaining stumps. The blonde teenage girl was next, her lips sewn shut in a similar manner to the others. Rikarah's former family, carefully reflecting what wisdom they had not followed in their lives…see no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil…
As Rikarah began to wrap them carefully, preparing them for her departure, her heart thudded with excitement. It was a merrier Christmas than she would have thought…and the changes went deeper than interior decoration.
Straightening, bundles in her arms, her backpack on her back, Rikarah turned in the doorway, looking back at the cheery Christmas regalia and the bloodstained floors with a hard smile.
"And to all a good night," she murmured, before disappearing into the evening's darkness.