Author's Note: This is the last chapter I've completed, so this story will go on hiatus now until… sometime next year, probably. Unless I decide to complete it for NaNoWriMo. If you've any ideas of things you'd like to see happen, feel free to suggest them! :)
More announcements at the end of the chapter!
Chapter V: The Aftermath
Too bad you wouldn't know what to do
If the right thing walked right up to you
– Icon for Hire, Watch Me
The car's engine sounded deafeningly loud in the stillness of the night. The sound of other car engines was audible in the distance, at least five streets away, but Susan's car drowned them all out. I winced and squeezed my eyes tightly closed.
Please, I begged anyone who might be listening, don't let anyone hear us.
Slowly the car moved off. Susan gripped the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Neither of us looked back at the blanket-wrapped corpse. It weighed heavily on our minds, though.
We drove at a snail's pace along the streets of the neighbourhood. Susan clung to the steering wheel like a drowning man would cling to a rope. I huddled against the back of my chair and tried to make myself as unobtrusive as possible.
Susan pulled out onto the main road. After navigating a stretch of surprisingly busy road and two roundabouts, she turned off onto the road leading to Cullybackey.
"Where are we going?" I asked in a hushed voice. Somehow, illogical though it was, I felt speaking loudly would draw attention to us.
"I've no idea," Susan said just as quietly. "Somewhere deserted. Somewhere no one will ever think to look."
"Somewhere far off the beaten track," I agreed, thinking out loud. An idea suddenly struck me. "What about a graveyard?"
Susan took her eyes off the road for a moment to stare at me. "That's... That's a very good idea, actually! Where's the nearest graveyard?"
I had never felt the need to go looking for graveyards before, so I hadn't a clue.
"Look for a church," I suggested. "It'll probably have a graveyard. The older the church, the larger the graveyard and the less likely anyone will be suspicious of yet another grave. I think there's a Presbyterian church somewhere in Cullybackey."
There was a Presbyterian church "somewhere in Cullybackey". The only problem was, it had no graveyard and it was placed right smack next to the main road. Susan and I exchanged a look and shook our heads in unison.
We drove on past the church.
An hour later we were still driving along country roads, with the corpse still in the backseat, and with the knowledge that dawn was approaching weighing on our minds. Finally Susan pulled over to the side of the road.
"Look, there's a river there," she said, pointing.
I looked. Ahead of us there was a bridge. I couldn't see the river under it, but common sense dictated that where there was a bridge, there was usually a river.
"We can put the body under the bridge. It'll be ages before it's discovered. The water will wash away our fingerprints. And even if the river carries her downstream, it won't matter because no one will know where she came from. And it's highly unlikely anyone will identify her if she's found, or report her missing." Susan sounded very pleased with her cleverness.
I thought of the police who were searching for Eulalia. Something told me that they might identify her if they found her body.
Susan parked the car at the side of the road. We got out and pulled the body out of the backseat. Rigor mortis had set in, and it was awkward and heavy to carry.
There was no moon. The only light was from the stars, and from a little torch that Susan produced from the car's side pocket. We didn't dare leave the car's lights on in case someone saw them.
Slowly, stumbling over our own feet, we made our way to the bridge. It spanned a small river, little more than a stream, that bubbled gently below us. We stopped at the side of the bridge.
"It'll be impossible to get down to the river," I said. "Look at all those bushes blocking the way."
By the faint light of the torch I saw Susan nod. "We'll just push her over the side and hope no one sees her."
This sounded like a recipe for disaster to me. "But anyone passing by is sure to see her!"
"Not unless they specifically look over the wall. And why would they?"
Good point. I said no more, and helped Susan lift the corpse onto the edge of the wall. We pushed it over the edge. There was silence for what seemed like hours, then the splash of something heavy landing in the water.
Susan breathed a sigh of relief. I closed my eyes. Finally, finally, this nightmare seemed to be over.
I have to laugh at how foolish, how naïve I had been then. Over? It had barely begun.
We made it back to Ballymena when the first light of dawn was just creeping over the horizon. No one else seemed to be awake. We crept up to our respective rooms, where I at least collapsed into bed and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
I slept until the sun was high in the sky. I slept through my alarm clock ringing. I slept through a knock at the door. I would probably have slept the entire day away, in fact, if the smell of coffee hadn't woken me up.
There's nothing like the smell of coffee to wake a person up. They might be so tired they'd sleep through a bomb going off, but coffee would wake them when explosions, loud noises or the end of the world wouldn't. My eyes snapped open. Coffee? Where was that smell coming from? My coffee machine wasn't set to automatically make coffee. The smell was much too close for it to be coming from someone else's rooms.
When I staggered into the kitchen, still more than half-asleep, it was to find Susan pouring herself a cup of coffee.
"Ergh?" I asked intelligently, meaning 'Why are you here?', 'Why are you using my coffee machine?', and similar questions.
"Good morning," Susan said. Those were hardly the words I would have chosen to describe that day, but no matter. "Good afternoon, I mean. Don't you have work today?"
"Afternoon?" I repeated blankly. I looked at the clock. Sure enough, the hands indicated that it was half-past one. A horrible realisation struck me at the same minute. "I'm dreadfully late for work!"
Susan nodded. "I thought you would be, so I phoned the library and told them you were sick."
What? Who gave her the right to do that on my behalf? I thought about this, in my sleep-fogged mind, before I shrugged and decided to forget it. She had saved me a lot of trouble and stopped me from possibly losing my job. There was no point in looking a gift horse in the mouth.
"Thank you," I said, reaching for the coffee machine. "Just out of curiosity, what did you say I was sick with?"
I prayed she hadn't let her imagination run away with her. It would be terribly awkward to explain my miraculous recovery if she had said I had measles or scarlet fever.
"Flu," Susan said as she added three spoonfuls of sugar to her coffee. "I thought that would be easiest to explain."
Good. I wouldn't have to make up any outrageous stories to explain why I was suddenly no longer sick when I went back to work.
We stood in silence for a long time, drinking our coffee and pointedly ignoring the elephant in the room. How is one supposed to act, anyway, when they've helped a friend dispose of a body late at night? No one ever mentions that sort of thing in advice columns.
"So what do we do now?" Susan asked suddenly.
I blinked, taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"Do we never speak of this again? Pretend it never happened?"
There is no way to keep a secret forever. A careless word or look will rouse someone's suspicions. A person passing by the right place at the right time will notice something. Incriminating evidence will be discovered completely by accident. Even nature itself works to reveal secrets. If only I had know that then as well as I know it now.
Unfortunately, I didn't.
"Pretending it never happened sounds like the best strategy," I said.
Susan nodded. And with that, we dropped the subject.
Oh, what fools we were.
Life settled back into a bizarrely mundane pattern. I went back to work, recovered from my "flu". Susan went on painting her various "artworks". I got up early the next morning to help Susan scrub the blood off the floor. Eulalia was never mentioned by either of us.
But she was the only thing we thought of.
Until the McIlwees arrived.
The day my life was turned even further upside down began like any other day. It was a drizzly, overcast Wednesday. I sat in front of my typewriter, trying to find the words to finish a sentence describing one of my novel's characters.
Then the door flew open with a resounding crash. Susan shot in, waving a magazine over her head.
"Have you seen this?" she exclaimed in a choked sort of voice.
My thoughts immediately flew to the murder. Had the body been discovered? Had it been identified? Had our fingerprints been found on it? My heart pounded as if I'd just run a marathon.
I looked at the magazine's title, and found I could breathe somewhat more easily. The Ulster Tatler was unlikely to contain reports on a murder.
"What is it?" I asked.
She held out the magazine, open to a page full of pictures. I examined them curiously. None of them seemed likely to cause such alarm. They were nothing more exciting than pictures taken at the opening of a new train station.
I looked blankly at Susan. "Well? What's so important about this?"
She jabbed her finger at one of the pictures. "That."
The picture she indicated was nothing more exciting than a photo of a man, a woman and a teenage girl. On closer inspection, I realised that there was something very familiar about the girl. Where had I seen such an unbearably self-satisfied expression before, coupled with such tasteless, tacky clothes and such garish, clownish make-up?
"Who are these people?" I wondered aloud.
"Oisín McIlwee." There was something unsettling about Susan's voice.
That name sounded vaguely familiar. I couldn't think where I'd hear it before, but it niggled at the back of my mind like a forgotten date.
"And who is Oisín McIlwee?" I asked, pulled a face at the ridiculous name.
Call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I have always been of the opinion that a word's spelling should reflect its pronunciation. Therefore, the (now-dead, thank God) Irish language is nothing less than a linguistic abomination. Any language where "Oisín" is pronounced "uh-sheen" rather than as "oy-sin" or "oy-seen" should be destroyed with fire.
I was so distracted by my musings on the idiocy of certain languages that I didn't notice at first that Susan hadn't replied. I looked at her, surprised. She was still staring at the photograph.
"Susan? Who is this Oisín character?"
Her reply was so quiet I almost didn't hear it.
"He's my husband."
Second Author's Note: If you've read this far, thank you so much!
This will be the last update for a long time, but on Monday I'll post the first chapter of another story I'm currently working on. It's frankly a mess, but hopefully someone can bear to read it :)
Thank you again to my readers!