CHAPTER FIVE

UNIDENTIFIED

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When school was let back in a couple days later, Christiana and Diana quickly realized how differently the other students were treating them.

No more taunts and insults being thrown across the halls at them. No more stealing their stuff. In fact, the two girls were being completely ignored. No one dared to look at them, especially not at Diana, even as she had fresh blue contacts in. She knew it wasn't worth it, since practically the entire school had seen her golden eyes, but Erin had made her put them in. The students were weirdly silent. That could also be from the shocking event of the other day, when they saw that man all cut-up like that.

But it wasn't just the students. It was the teachers too. In every class, when a question was asked, Christiana or Diana would be the first to raise their hand, every time, but the teachers seemed to purposefully ignore them. To pretend that neither girl was there at all.

"This is strange," Christiana muttered between classes. "I'm so used to everyone making fun of us because we seem so odd."

"It'll get bad," Diana said. "When they recover they'll be worse to us than ever. Of course, there may be the few that think my gold eyes are totally cool and they'll want to hang around with us. And you know that won't last long because too many kids will be taunting them too much. This is like---"

"Segregation," Christiana filled in.

"Right. And virtual isolation. I guess we'll just have to grin and bear it."

"Yeah, there's nothing we can do about it."

"We're as human as the rest of them! This is so unfair." Diana frowned at her locker as she smoothly fiddled with the lock. "I'm still wondering who that man was."

"We better not talk about it in the school," Christiana replied lowly.

I agree. Telepathy is a much better alternative.

Christiana jumped. "Did you hear that, Di?"

"Hear what?"

I was talking exclusively to you. Not to her. She can't hear what I tell you, and you can't hear what I tell her. Nobody else can hear what I'm telling you because it's inside your own mind.

The voice wasn't exactly heard--but the words hung as clearly in Christiana's mind as though she'd been spoken to. A man. The Mystery Man?

Who are you? she thought. She and Diana used telepathy often, but never before had anyone else used it to speak to them.

No answer.

Answer me, Christiana thought, wondering if her mental power wasn't strong enough to communicate with the man.

Again, no answer. Christiana scanned the hallway with her eyes, trying to find anyone nearby that could have communicated with her. No one. The boys were shoving each other around and talking with the girls, and there wasn't a male teacher or school employee anywhere in sight. The unheard voice hadn't sounded anything like a teenage boy's voice did. It sounded--experienced. In life? Christiana could hardly sort through her thoughts as she reverted her eyes back to a puzzled Diana.

"Someone just spoke to me through my mind," she murmured, her voice barely audible.

"Mystery Man?" Diana ventured, narrowing her eyes.

"Possibly." Christiana's face paled a little in surprise--how did Diana know that? Then again, they were prone to often read each other's thoughts. "It was a man's voice, I know that for sure."

The voice returned in her mind so suddenly that the startlement felt like an electric shock. The investigation won't be over for a while. They won't know who killed the man who is now in the coroner's office and getting a nice long autopsy. They'll never know.

Christiana froze.

Though I know who he is. I should know, after all.

Christiana knew that her face had drained of color as she stared at Diana. The voice was now silent. "He said the police and all will never know who the guy is that was killed the other day," she whispered, leaning her head close to her friend so that students passing by wouldn't hear.

"Weird," Diana mumbled, keeping her eyes on her locker. She turned and laid her hand on Christiana's shoulder. "Let's get to class before we're late."

They both made their way to their next class, and that voice didn't enter Christiana's head again.



"The man found dead behind Bedford Middle School still has not been identified. The coroner has performed an autopsy on the man and concluded that he was mutilated and stabbed by a butcher knife. The man's face is so badly cut that it will be very difficult for anyone to identify him, even those who have known him his whole life, coroner David Woodson reports."

Erin Griggs, shaking her head, turned away from the kitchen television and eyed her coffee mug before her on the table. "Isn't it awful?" she told Heather, who was sitting across from her. "With a butcher knife. It's like in a horror movie or something."

Heather clutched her coffee cup secretively to her chest, as though concealing a small, warm pet that was hers alone. Her rings flashed in the morning sun. Though she had stayed up most of the night, which she was doing a lot of lately because of her insomnia attacks, she looked fresh and lovely. She was a collection of pleasing colors, with her honey- smooth tan, jade-green eyes, and the silky blonde hair with its red and gold and even some brownish lights. With the bright spring sunshine upon her, she seemed partly made out of silky, liquid light herself. In that vivid instant of Christiana's appreciation for her, she had some genuine feel of what her mother was to her, an essential something that was not blurred by the fights with Warren or her natural worrying and secretiveness.

"It's horrible, definitely," Heather agreed. "I wonder who could've killed the guy."

The other woman plunked down her spoon and gazed at Heather with her brown eyes hardened. Her wavy auburn hair was pulled back severely with a clip--she seemed like she was trying to look older than she actually was, but it wasn't working at all. Her mauvey lips were pulled down in a frown. Heather turned in her chair and looked at Christiana, who was getting a Coke out of the fridge. "Ana, would you clean the birds' cage? I forgot to do it and it's a mess."

Christiana put the can of Coke back in the fridge. She knew her mother was deliberately trying to get rid of her. She could clean the birds' cage right from where she was standing, but she didn't want to make the women nervous by making the tray at the bottom of the cage float across the room by itself and dump the feathers and piles of empty seed hulls in the garbage pail. So she left to do it manually. But curiousity was burning like a wildfire within her--what did Heather and Erin have to talk about that Christiana couldn't hear?

The investiagtion into who killed the man behind the school continued for the next few weeks. There were no suspects...the detectives and police were frazzled. They didn't know who could've done it, or why. Even using the latest pathology technologies, they were starting to admit that it was a perfect murder. Whoever committed it must be very intelligent and very skilled.

Some people seemed to think that Christiana and Diana had done it. Those shallow-minded students, some teachers like Miss Saunders, and even a few neighbors. Like Mr. Hornecker, for instance.

Mr. Hornecker had moved in across the street a few years back. He was a grumpy man in his mid-forties, with a walrus mustache and a few strands of hair combed over his balding head. His face was ruddy and he had beady brown eyes that looked any child over in comtempt. He didn't like children at all--especially not the two girls. The day after he moved in, he was clutching a briefcase and running to his car. Diana hadn't seen him until it was too late and had run smack into Mr. Hornecker, spilling the contents of his briefcase everywhere.

Mr. Hornecker had glared at her and called her a vulgar name, then began grabbing up his papers as fast as he could. "Now I'll really be late for my meeting," he snarled. "Get out of here, you little urchin. Get!"

Christiana and Diana avoided him as much as possible, but he seemed to follow them with his eyes. He made them very nervous.

One Thursday afternoon after school, Christiana rode her bicycle up to Sarah Aives' house. Sarah's mother was nice to her and always give her some peppermint tea or let her borrow an interesting book like "Wuthering Heights". And Sarah herself was a lively thing, expelling most of her pent-up energy at dance class twice a week. The Aives house was definitely not tense like the Welspeiger household--Marie Aives was divorced and seemed to like the idea of being single just fine. She was friendly and animated--hardly the type that would worry all the time. A fresh change from Heather.

Christiana had to ride by Mr. Hornecker's house, and although she didn't care to look at it, she did anyway. It was huge and stout, and sort of squarely-built, like its owner. A fresh coat of paint gleamed on the house. Mr. Hornecker painted the place at least twice a year, since he seemed like he didn't have anything interesting to do in his spare-time. He was outside, trying to install a sprinkler system by himself. He prized his lawn, just like Warren did his own. As Christiana rode by he didn't even notice her, which made her feel at ease.

She didn't have to knock on the Aives' front door, because it already stood ajar. She sat her bike beside the porch and stepped past the door. No one seemed to be home except for the cat, Shadow, who was polishing off something in his food dish. He lifted his head and stared at her, his great green eyes unblinking.

"Hi, Shadow. Where's Sarah and Marie?" Christiana hadn't really expected an answer, but it was there, hanging in her mind almost as if the cat had spoken. Marie was around back, weeding the garden. Sarah was in the kitchen, doing her homework.

"Sarah?" Christiana called. Sarah came out from the kitchen, pen stuck behind her ear. "Hi!" she said with a little wave of her slim hand. "Come on in. I could use a break from all this homework." She led the other girl into the kitchen. Her Virginia accent brought a certain spice to the air.

"Think they'll ever find out who killed that guy?" Sarah said. She sat down at the table and swept her books and papers out of the way.

Christiana sat down too. She shook her head. "I'll bet they don't," she replied. "It was the perfect murder."

"Aw, come on, you can't really believe that!" Sarah protested, slapping her pen down on top of her homework. Her eyes widened. "No murder can be perfect, can it?"

"You never know," Christiana murmured. Just the thought of it gave her cold chills. Whoever the killer was, he was still on the loose and possibly still in Bedford County. Somebody else could be murdered. At any time. She didn't want to talk about it.

A few minutes, Christiana needed to use the bathroom--her contacts were irritating her eyes and she was going to go use her eye drops. As she left the kitchen, trying not to trip over Shadow, she heard voices. Mr. Hornecker and Marie Aives.

"Look," Marie said crossly. "What do have against the girl?"

"Everything. I want you to give me information about her and that other little creature that's always hanging around her. And I think you can give me the information, Miss Aives. Their mothers have confided in you, because you're so trustworthy."

"They trust me because I don't go blabbering off at the mouth to anyone on the street everything I know," Marie said, her voice heavy with both meaning and Southern accent.

Mr. Hornecker didn't back off, however. He wasn't discouraged. Either he was more thick-skinned than Christiana thought, or it was important to him to get answers; otherwise, he wouldn't have kept pushing when Marie had made it clear she thought he was too nosy.

Christiana silently stepped to the foyer and pressed against it, watching the two out on the front lawn. Marie's dark hair looked as if someone stirred it up with an eggbeater, chunky wisps going in all directions.

Mr. Hornecker ran a hand over his balding head and spoke with annoyed firmness. "I think those girls--Griggs in particular--are a great danger, Miss Aives."

"What do you mean by that?" Marie's voice sharpened, and Christiana felt her own stomach bunch up into an uncomfortable knot. "What are you talking about? You're not making any sense."

"Let me elaborate for you, then. You know the murder at the middle school?"

"Of course. Who hasn't? Heather and Erin are worried for their girls, just as all the parents here are worried for their children. I've worried for Sarah."

"Did they say anything to you about what the man said to Griggs before he died? That the teacher found both those girls back there at the scene with blood all over them? Griggs was crouched right at his head."

Christiana's fingers curled into a fist, and although it was warm inside, she felt a chill.

"Next door to me, the people say that the couple who lived in the house before me thought those Griggs and Welspeiger girls were responsible for a lot of baf things that happened at their place and the farm the guy's brother owned. Young calves born dead, fruit falling off the trees before it was ripe, Mr. Walters breaking his arm when the ladder slipped out from under him while he was painting the house..."

Marie scowled. "Bah! How silly can you get? I was here, too, and Diana and Ana were always sweet girls; they wouldn't harm anyone! The Walters were just unfortunate."

"Well, that's what you think. Most of these neighbors still around here think otherwise. They've afraid of what those girls know how to do. Things most children never even thought of doing, and things other people, even adults, can't do. You wouldn't believe the stories I've heard around here about those brats' peculiar activities."

"No, I wouldn't, because I've heard this about the girls ever since they were born, from nosy people like you. Don't you have anything better to do?" Marie's voice was crisp.

"Well," Mr. Hornecker replied, a little flustered, "some people think those girls are a sort of witch. If the urchins had been around a few hundred years ago, they'd probaly have burned at the stake or been drowned on a dunking stool. I suspect the two killed that man. Their teachers believe so, too."

"Hmm," Marie muttered. "All the teachers by the name of Miss Saunders? Those two girls were inside the school when the guy was attacked. Christiana and Di have plenty of witnesses. It was Mike Parker who first discovered him, and the girls weren't there when he came across him. Honestly, you're ridiculous."

Mr. Hornecker's pudgy face grew red.

Christiana's fright had grown until it was making her shake. She knew people couldn't be burned at the stake or drowned anymore because they were thought to be witches; but what might happen if people were afraid of herself and Diana? Afraid of what the two girls could be capable of doing?

Up to now, their powers to create winds and move things about had been part nuisance and part entertaining. Now, Christiana saw quite clearly that they could also be incredibly dangerous. And unfortunately, the powers were still so small, so weak, that they didn't give the girls any protection against those who might want to harm them because they were different.

Mr. Walters, she thought furiously. She'd had nothing to do with his cows and had only made fruit drop a few days sooner than it would have fallen, anyway. She certainly hadn't made him break his arm. She could see that she ought not to have anything to do with him at all; it had been a serious mistake for herself and Di to entertain themselves by stirring up winds around them that blew the leaves off the trees so that they drifted onto the lawn he'd just raked, and by rolling apples under his feet so that he'd skidded on them. The girls never liked the Walters', because the couple was always so cross and short-tempered; it was a relief when the pair suddenly moved away when Christiana and Di were eight years old.

And now that horrid Hornecker thought the two best friends killed the guy who had been sliced up behind the school! How could anyone believe such a terrible thing?

"Look," Marie's voice was icy now. "I don't know who you think you are, but--"

"That's her bike, isn't it?" Mr. Hornecker lowly interrupted, pointing at Christiana's bike leaning up against the porch. "The Welspieger girl is here, isn't she? You shouldn't be letting her have any contact with your daughter. Although Sarah--"

Marie glared at him. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do," she bit back. "And don't even start on my daughter. Get off my property. Now. I've had enough of you for one day."

"Hey--" Mr. Hornecker began.

"Move it, before I call the cops!" Marie barked. The man's face went even redder and he turned tail and quickly walked back to his house.

Christiana went back into the kitchen; Sarah was staring at her funny. "What's wrong?" the peppy girl asked.

Christiana briefly told her about what Mr. Hornecker had just said.

"You know, he's going to be a real problem, that guy," Sarah grumbled, picking up her pen and twirling it between her thumb and forefinger. "He doesn't trust anybody that's not exactly like him."

"You mean he doesn't trust the planet?"

"Heh--uh-huh. That's just what I mean."

Marie entered the kitchen, then. "Hey girls," she said cheerfully enough, but Ana could sense an underlying tension in her voice. "I've got to start dinner." Her tone was meaningful and Christiana took this as her cue.

"Yeah, I've got to go," she said. "Mom's probaly about to start dinner too. Bye, Sarah! Bye, Marie!"

"Oh dad burn it, Ana, now I've got to do my homework," Sarah said, winking at her. Her speech was always filled with Southern inflections.

"Yes you do," Marie agreed. "See you soon, Ana."

Christiana retrieved her bicycle and pedalled as hard as she could, just to feel the cool wind rush at her face. Her stomach felt like it was tied into thick knots, unable to be undone.