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Not once would she look back.
All Alline could do was face forward as she sprinted down the street, splashing through the puddles that lay like mirrors dotted on the road as she ducked behind gray buildings. The color of the town had washed away years ago under the relentless rain that poured down from similarly dull skies. Stopping for a moment, she waited till she could hear her brother humming behind her. Where could she possibly hide? Alline’s yellow rain jacket stood out like blood on pale hands. She knew she and her brother couldn't go back home now. They would be blamed, and it would be over. She had to keep going.
“Stop wi’that song,” she called back angrily to her brother, eyes trained on the cracked road before her, looking for a street sign that she recognized. “Knock it off!” she hissed again as her brother continued to softly murmur the nursery rhyme that Momma always sang before bed as Papa tucked them in all cozy for the night. But she mustn't think about that now; it would only slow her down. Hide hide.
The dark, empty lanes of the sleeping town spread before Alline like a dark rabbit burrow; she was the frightened little bunny, twitching in terror as she listened for the sound of her fox pursuer who would catch her any minute and drag her away. No, no; she couldn't be caught, or she'd meet the same fate as Momma and Papa and it would be over and her brother would be alone and no, no, she could not let that happen. Her heart skipped a beat.
She wouldn't allow it.
Through the darkness gleamed a window, a rectangle of orange light, faded to a dull glow through the curtain of cascading droplets. Still it was there, and the luminosity of it caused her grey eyes to gleam like the steely blade of a knife. It was a beacon of safety, and the girl sprinted across the street toward it after gesturing to the silent boy behind her to follow.
His footsteps. Alline couldn't hear them, but she still didn't look back. Couldn't look back till she got him to safety, safety, safety. Besides, Alline could feel her brother behind her. She knew he was there.
Knock knock on the door. A rectangle of wood was set into the worn stone of the building, and after another knock knock, it was pulled back to reveal more orange light and a woman. Under her brown, wispy hair was a face far too similar to Alline’s momma’s, except its lips still moved. They let out a gasp and the hands that still moved unlike her momma’s reached forward and grabbed her little shoulders. Alline stopped in the entrance to reach behind her and hold the door open, staring into not quite her momma’s face. After she was sure her brother had had enough time to follow her in, she allowed it to close behind her. The snap of wood muted the noise of the pitter patter rain outside.
“Sorry, Miss Erry,” Alline apologized, and her eyes started darting about the room faster than a frantic animal. A pale finger traced her lips.
“It's Miss Erin, dear. But why don't you call me aunt?” Aunt Erin motioned towards one of the stiff-backed kitchen chairs, her face a mask of concern. “What ever were you doing out by yourself?”
“Somethin’,” Alline responded, voice dull. Her lips were still being circled by the white little finger. On and on she traced her mouth.
Aunt Erin stared, almost hypnotized. “Never mind.” She shook her head, then motioned to the chair once again.
Almost robotic, Alline walked forward, walked sideways, and sat stiff.
Aunt Erin watched, still worried.
“I'm going to call your parents.”
Immediately, Alline jumped. Her head shook so fast it was a blur. “No no no no.”
“Why?” Erin said, surprised. Her suspicion rose even more.
“They’ren’t even hom,” Alline said, stuttering, glancing between her aunt and the table.
Erin opened her mouth, then closed it noiselessly. She thought for a moment. Perhaps her niece had just gotten lonely when her parents were off shopping and ended up running here. Yes, that must be it. Erin’s sister would call her and she'd explain where Alline was and they'd tell her to never ever do that again or you’ll be in trouble, missy. It would be fine.
“Want some hot chocolate?” she offered.
“Yes ma'am!” This brought some of the childish excitement back to the little girl’s face, which was fully revealed now that she'd lowered her hood. Her near chestnut hair puffed up in odd directions.
Erin busied herself with the cocoa. The kitchen was very small, cramped and cozy with a high ceiling. Wooden counters and shelves were overflowing with dented pans and ripped bags of sugar, rusty pots and half eaten loaves of bread. The soft light bounced off of whitewashed walls and seemed to make the faces of both girl’s glow.
After a significant amount of clanging, clattering, and Alline tapping out a tune on the table, Alline was presented with a warm mug overflowing with steam.
“Careful, it’s hot-!” Erin said, frantic. But too late; Alline spit the sweltering liquid across the room and tossed aside the mug, which sloshed over onto the table. Too hot too hot ow.
“S’alright, Miss Erry,” Alline said, voice slurred, for she was speaking with her tongue half out. “My brother can have the rest.”
“It's Erin. And what do you mean, your brother? She took on the interrogation pose that every child dreaded, eyebrows raised, hands on hips.
“Forget it. Wh-” The phone rang suddenly, its jingling tune magnified by the closeness of the space. Both girls jumped.
Erin looked over, hesitant. She wanted to finish her questioning, but then again, it could be her sister. She picked up the receiver and placed it to her ear.
About two clock tick ticks later she fumbled and dropped it.
Said girl fumbled furiously with her hands. Fingers knotted and unknotted to the tick tick sound of the clock, which was accompanied by the concerned voice of an older male coming through the phone.
“My sister...your parents…”
The daughter of those mentioned scuffed her rain boots on the floor.
“Oh my God. Did you know?”
The girl who knew shrugged her shoulders.
“They...they were k-killed…!”
The child of the dead parents nodded. She covered her face with her hands. She didn't want her brother to know.
Erin yelled in the voice that was like Alline’s Momma’s but not quite like Alline’s Momma’s because it didn't scream and plead and fade away never to be heard again.
“Oh my God. Who did this? Why didn't you tell me?” Erin was sobbing now.
But the answer never came. Bumping and sliding into furniture, the little girl fled the kitchen into the dark living room. The lights flicked on just as she threw open the door and slip slipped down the rainy lawn.
Was her brother following? She couldn't hear his footsteps. Then again, she never did. It didn't matter. Didn't didn't. She could hear him singing. That horrid horrid song that their horrid horrid parents sang. It hurt her heart. Hurt hurt. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but they were hidden among the raindrops, just as Alline was finally hidden among the trees.
Leaves were crunched and tossed aside as she sprinted through the wood, gasping for air. She had to keep going. The sound of rain against the leaves was loud enough to drown out the sound of police sirens in the distance, and maybe, maybe the voice of her aunt yelling to her but maybe not. It, however, wasn't loud enough to drown out the little boy singing.
Her brother loved the song. Alline had, too, but now it haunted her. It became louder and louder in her ears, filling them, harmonizing with the sound of the rain roar roaring on the leaves and then eventually covering it up completely until she could feel it in her very skull.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” For the first time all day, Alline turned around.
Her lip trembled.
Hurt hurt hurt.
Her brother wasn't there.
Suddenly, Alline wasn't either.
Earlier that day. She had come home, daisy-print backpack slung carefully over her shoulder. Precious cargo was obviously carried in it.
“Momma! Papa!” she called, excited. “I have somein’ to show ya!”
No answer. She listened closely.
“Momma! Papa!” Alline heard quiet, quiet crying from the room down the hall. She scrunched up her eyes, curious and, mostly, annoyed. It never took her parents this long to greet her at the door and shower her with hugs and kisses.
Footsteps. Papa appeared with an arm around Momma. Alline smiled then noticed her momma’s tear-stained face.
“What'sa matter?” she asked, frowning. She carefully set down the fluffy backpack. Inside was her heavy heavy gift that she had made: a large heart shaped stone with gems and her brother’s name pressed into it. It was her finest work and she was quite proud.
Momma trembled and pressed her face into Papa’s shoulder. Papa swallowed. “Alline. We told you about how sick your brother is, right?”
She nodded, frustrated. She wanted to give him the present already. Excitement. Where was he?
“And we told you about heaven? The place where the good little kids have to go sometimes to get their angel wings?”
“Ya. Whatta ‘bout it?”
“Y-your brother…” Papa closed his eyes tight tight.
“Your brother took his trip to heaven!” Momma cried, as if the words were pulled out of her. She crumpled, sobbing, and covered her face.
“No.” Alline refused to hear it, her voice shaking almost as much as her hands. It wasn't true. What were they talking about?
Grief overtook Momma; her knees buckled and Papa had to grab her, hold her up. Alline watched, her eyes wide as he sat Momma on the couch, which faced away from their daughter. The man looked over the back cushions at Alline, eyes watering. He reached out an arm, inviting her in for a comforting hug, which was silly because there was nothing to be sad about. They were lying. Her brother was fine.
“No.” Alline repeated, shook her head.
Momma looked up from Papa’s shoulder. Tears streamed down her cheeks as sadness mixed with fury at having to repeat the words. “He's gone, Alline!”
Papa shushed her. “Please, calm down,” he whispered, hugging Momma tighter. “Alline. I'm so sorry.”
“He's gone, gone, gone…” muttered Momma..
“N-no. He's not…” Alline glanced toward her brother’s room.
“Alline! He's dead!” Momma almost screamed, shaking with grief. Alline had never seen her like this.
“Christine! Stop!” Papa yelled Momma’s name and pulled her down, facing away from Alline.
How could Momma try to hurt her like that? Why would they both tell her such a lie?
She couldn't help it. What happened afterwards. Hurt hurt. She had taken it upon herself to hurt them back.
She grabbed her heavy backpack with the heavy present and slowly snuck up behind Papa, eyes wide. She trembled as she raised the bag, staring at Papa as he whispered to Momma, not noticing his daughter approaching. He had lied to Alline and told her her brother was dead. He was awful. She swung the bag as hard as she could at the back of his head and crack: he slumped over with a groan, fell silent.
Momma looked up, startled as she watched her husband fall over onto the carpet. “What…” She barely had time to turn her head as Alline swung the bag again with a final crack.
Alline gazed upon the scene: Momma had fallen sideways onto the couch cushion and Papa was face first on the rug. Alline’s breath was coming out in short, painful gasps. She felt sick, dizzy. She forced her eyes away before they could start to water. Instead they stared at her pale hands, now flecked with blood.
She went to her brother’s bedroom. “Wake up,” she said, forcefully, choked with tears. His little body was still on his little bed. Alline shook him, told him to follow her. Hurt hurt. The doc was supposed to visit today, and any moment he'd show up and see Momma and Papa and they had to hurry. She turned her eyes away from the boy but knew he’d follow. Quickly she led him past the scene in the living room, because, if her brother didn't see what she'd done, then she could forget it ever happened.
Alline had run, fled, scurried. Not once looking behind her for any reason. She knew her brother was behind her. He had to be. But she wouldn't check.
Now here she was in the woods, and, the facts she'd been trying to run away from were finally forced in front of her. Her parents hadn't been lying. Her brother was dead. He'd never been following her. If he was alive, he would've followed her to the end of the earth.
He was her best friend. Her baby brother, who loved making rhymes, loved playing with teddy bears, loved silly stories in the car on the way to the field where Momma and Papa smiled as they all caught fireflies to use as night lights because he was scared of the dark.
Most of all, he loved Alline.
And now her whole family was gone. Alline fell to her knees, then to her side. Hurt hurt. She sobbed, adding to the water droplets already on the ground as she dug her fingers into the dirt, contrasting white against the black soil. Her anguished screams were so loud that she didn't hear the police surrounding her, shouting to one another. She screamed to let out her pain. She screamed to cover up the voices of her long gone family members that promised they would always be by her side. But they weren't there.
It was just her.