Aditi Tome dropped her shopping bags onto the kitchen floor and almost fell into a chair. She leaned forward and looked across the hallway to what He liked to call the Drawing Room but was really a living room. Her two daughters were sitting at their desks with their Special Books. Both Venus and Fabia had just two hours from when they finished school to get home and write I Must Obey 400 times in their Special Books. They had this down to a fine art and would be finished any moment. Aditi managed a small smile before the clock on the wall caught her eye. It was almost five and she had to have dinner on the table by six or He would be angry. Very angry. Her hand went to the bruises that still lined her throat. Aditi slid from her chair and began to unpack the shopping.
Fabia and Venus finished their task just as their mother began to unpack her shopping. Both girls closed their books and left them to one side for Him to check and then went up to their rooms. Both girls changed out of their school uniforms and into equally drab clothes. He didn't approve of bright colours, they addled the mind apparently. Venus and Fabia changed into black shoes, white socks and grey skirts and jumpers but Fabia headed straight back downstairs, Venus took a few moments to stare out of her bedroom window.
Venus wanted to run and she wanted to run right now. Everyday about this time, when she knew that He was coming home, she had to almost physically stop herself from just opening the window and running. But that would just make things worse for her mother and sister and so she stayed, but it wouldn't be forever. Venus had made many trips to the local library and had read every medical book they had. She had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of human anatomy and disease. Venus would be a doctor, weather He liked it or not.
From her window, Venus could see into the kitchen of the house opposite. A very stroppy old woman lived there. As far as Venus knew, the woman never smiled and she never spoke which was fine. The perfect neighbour for Him, anyway. Venus would often observe the woman and try to spot any familiar symptoms from her books but, so far, the woman seemed to be in perfect health. At the moment, she was unpacking her shopping and had just laid a paper parcel on the counter. Venus felt her stomach turn a lazy somersault. That old lady loved liver as much as He did. A scream from downstairs yanked her gaze from the window to the clock. It was only five fifteen so why was there screaming now? Venus dashed downstairs.
The kitchen was a room so clean you could eat your food from the floor, which was something He often made them do. Aditi was crouched on the floor, crying while Fabia was flopped on a chair like a ragdoll.
"What happened, mother?" asked Venus. Aditi looked up at her elder daughter and drew a great, shuddering breath before she answered.
"The liver! I forgot the liver and there's no time to go back for it now! He'll kill us all!" Venus stared at her mother and sister, her mind racing. It was just liver; someone else must have some they could have? She turned her head as a picture raced across her mind's eye. An old woman that enjoyed a nice piece of liver and she had just been shopping too.
"Sort this mess out, mother. Fabia and I will go and get the liver" she said. Venus didn't wait for her mother but grabbed Fabia and almost dragged the girl from the house. They strode around the side of the house and into their own back garden and then right up to the very back fence. Venus put her eye to a gap in the boards. The old woman was still in the kitchen but she soon came into the back garden and hobbled around the side of the house.
"What are you doing?" whispered Fabia.
"We are getting another liver. Come one" replied Venus. They climbed the fence and ran in a crouch to the open kitchen door; Venus just hoped that the liver in question was just in the fridge and not already in the pan. He liked his liver almost raw. Venus stepped into the kitchen and spotted the butcher's packet still on the counter. Venus had just picked it up when Fabia grabbed her wrist.
"She's coming back!" she hissed. Venus fought back the panic that tried to rise; they could go out the front door. She took Fabia's hand and pulled her through the house to the front door but there they stopped, panic threatening again. There were at least four locks on the door and yet more bolts with no keys in sight. Venus gripped her sister's hand tighter and pulled her up the stairs and into the nearest room. It was the old ladies bedroom.
"Who's in here? Who took my dinner?" The voice was hoarse and grating and Venus felt her skin wanting to crawl right off her bones.
"Get under the bed. I'll get in the wardrobe and keep quiet" hissed Venus. Fabia nodded and threw herself under the bed while Venus stepped in the cupboard.
"Who's got my dinner?" The voice was coming closer, the boards on the landing creaked as the old lady hobbled into the room. She stood on the threshold for a moment before shuffling across the carpet.
"Who's got my dinner?" Venus watched through a gap as the old lady edged towards the bed and when the woman bent down Venus almost cried out in desperation. With a shriek of triumph, the old witch reached under the bed and, with a surprising show of strength, yanked Fabia out and to her feet. Venus burst from the wardrobe and tackled the old woman round the middle; all three of them flew sideways and dropped to the carpet.
Venus struggled out of the mass of tangled limbs and pulled Fabia with her but the old woman did not stir. Venus reached out and pushed the woman over onto her back, Fabia let out a small squeak of alarm. The old lady's eyes were wide but she was not breathing, a trickle of blood ran down the side of her head. Venus pushed the parcel into Fabia's hand before checking for a pulse but there was none.
"She's dead. We have to get the liver . . . What's wrong?" asked Venus. Fabia was staring down at the opened package in her hands; tears were coursing down her cheeks. Venus stood and peered into the packet.
"A pork chop. Today of all days and she buys a pork chop!" Venus laughed but clapped a hand over her mouth before it became uncontrollable.
"What do we do now?" asked Fabia. Venus opened her mouth to speak when she stopped and stared down at the old woman. There couldn't be that much difference. She knew where it was and the old woman didn't need it anymore. Venus swallowed; her hands trembled but the thought of her mother explaining the lack of liver to Him steadied her immediately.
"Go home; you need to get cleaned up." Venus dragged her sister down to the kitchen and pushed her out the back door.
"What are you going to do?" asked Fabia. The colour drained from her face when Venus picked up the knife block and tucked it under her arm.
"I'm going to get a liver." Venus turned and hurried back up the stairs.
At six on the dot, He came home. He was a fat, hulking brute of a man with tiny eyes and weak chin. He hung His coat and gave His briefcase to Fabia before stalking into the dining room. A plate with lightly cooked liver and onions was placed before Him on the table. Fabia and Venus came forward for inspection.
"Good. Leave." The only words He ever spoke to them that were not a curse or a threat. He waved a fat hand and the girls left the room to retire upstairs to their own meals. Aditi waited until the meal was pronounced edible and then left Him, hurrying up the stairs where her daughters were waiting in the doorways to their rooms. They didn't dare even whisper so they mouthed the words to each other.
"Where did you get that liver?" Aditi asked. Venus shook her head and closed her door. Fabia refused to meet her mother's gaze and stepped back into her own room. Aditi closed her own door and leaned against it. She didn't care where Venus had got the liver, it had saved their lives that night and that was all that mattered.
It was gone 3am when Venus was jolted from sleep by a weight on her bed.
"Venus. Don't say a word. There's someone in the house" whispered Aditi. Fabia was with her, trembling in her nightie. Venus moved to one side to allow them into her bed, sure that they had just heard the house creaking.
"Who's got my liver?" Venus froze; she knew that hoarse and croaking voice. She clapped a hand over Fabia's mouth and shook her head at her mother. The stairs groaned as someone edged their way up to the landing.
"Who's got my liver?" Aditi's grip on Venus' hand was almost painful as the door creaked open and something scratched across the boards. A black shadow began to rise beside the bed, Fabia and Aditi buried their faces in each other's arms but Venus could not drag her gaze away.
"Who's got my liver?"
"He has it." The words were out before Venus had realized she meant to utter them. The shadow froze in place and seemed to be considering this answer.
"Who took my liver?" This seemed to be just verification as the shadow was drawing closer to the doorway again so Venus repeated her answer.
"He has it." The shadow vanished from the room and the door swung shut. Had she dreamed that? Venus swallowed and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.
"No" begged Fabia, trying to pull her back. Venus brushed her sister aside and padded across the room; she opened the door and looked out into the corridor towards His room. A shadow slipped under the door. There was a moments silence before the shadow slipped out again and as it passed Venus, she heard that whisper again.
"I found my liver." Venus closed her own door and hurried back to bed. She pulled the quilt up around the three of them and they lay, trembling, until the light of dawn began to filter through the curtains.
"What now?" whispered Fabia. Aditi shook her head but Venus decided enough was enough. She got out of bed and strode to the door, her mother and sister followed. She stepped out onto the landing and walked the short distance to His room, Venus' hand was on the doorknob when Fabia hissed in her ear.
"You can't go in there!" Venus knew He was a heavy sleeper. She pushed open the door and poked her head inside the room.
He was dead. The police said his liver had been removed and he had simply bled to death. One officer mentioned that there had been a similar murder just across the way. An old lady had been found dead with her liver removed. They assumed they were looking for some kind of deranged killer.
Venus, Fabia and Aditi sat in the living room holding hands. He was dead. They could hardly take it in. Fabia looked at her sister before kissing her cheek.
"Thank you sister" she whispered. Venus nodded and allowed herself a small smile. Things had a way of turning out right sometimes.