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Flesh and Blood
The dust settled behind her. She had finally closed the door to her past. She knew her father’s death was an accident and her mother hadn’t left under her own power. What about her brother and sister? Why take them and not her too? Where were they now? Were they dead or alive? And if they were dead was it accidental or murder? MURDER!!! A voice kept whispering. Just that one word over and over again. MURDER! MURDER! MUR…DER..!
Maybe it was murder, maybe she should let it go. And she would but something told her that her life depended on it. When she got home, she checked her mail, not even sparing her old two bedroom blue-ish grey house a glace. Looking up, after finding nothing of importance in the mail, the words that had haunted her for weeks were written in bold capital letters across her window. YOU’RE NEXT…
Next for what? Why couldn’t she find the answer behind her siblings’ disappearance? Her ice blue eyes went wide. REDRUM… It hadn’t settled she might know she wasn’t abandoned but now someone was out to get her. She just had to find out whom. It was life or death.
He laughed silently while watching her. This would be fun. She fell for it as easy as she always had. He was glad when their mother had him pack his and Susan’s bags fifteen years ago. Alice has to stay behind. She’s too young they would kill her. They will kill her if we stay. Your father was just a warning.
He watched Alice run into the house. He had written the “you’re next…” to mess with her mind but had left for twenty minutes. He never wrote “redrum”. Who had plans of murdering her? They had left… were they following him now?
She had just gotten redrum off the window when a twig snapped. She looked up to see a guy walking towards her. He looked like… she couldn’t place him. Why was he so familiar looking? Could he be? “Josh?”
He smiled softly. “Yeah, Alice it’s me. How have you been?” she stared at him for the longest time before dropping the sponge, charging, and wrapping her arms around him. He laughed and hugged her back while he steadied them. She may have been a brat when they left but she was still the same girl who would wrap him up in a tight hug after a day of school.
“What about Susan? I thought you had died.” His smile faded at the mention of Susan. He looked at the desert behind the house. Where was Susan’s body now? Alice was looking at him. Watching him. The smile that had graced her face, all of two seconds ago, was gone. “What’s wrong?”
He looked her in the eye for a few seconds before looking out past the house. “She’s dead. Has been for fourteen years.” Alice gasped and backed up. “Sorry Ali.” He looked at the house. Remains of “redrum” were still on the window. “We should get you out of here. They’re after you now.” She stared into his ocean blue eyes. They were stormy with worry.
A thought entered her head. “Did ‘they’ kill Susan?” he nodded. Another thought popped in her head. “What about Mom? Did they kill her?” he smiled sadly and looked towards the cemetery a few blocks down.
“No. Mom died from a rare disease that she contracted last year. She wanted to see you. She never left you on purpose, it wasn’t her decision.” Tears filled the eyes so much like their mother’s. “She would be proud. You survived the worst thing in your life and made a life for yourself.” She just looked down, tears spilling down her face. He looked at his watch. They didn’t have time. Josh needed to know who “they” were and she was the key. Putting his finger under her chin, he lifted up her head to make her look him in the eye before slowly saying, “Go pack a few bags. We need to get out of here.” She nodded and turned to the house and scurried inside. On the balls of her feet as she always had. It was amazing to see how much she hadn’t changed. Her natural bleached blond hair was still half way down her back and she was still short for her age. Looking into her eyes and seeing her reaction to the deaths told him that she was still innocent.
They’ll get her, you have to find her. Protect her. She’s the key. They don’t want us to know what it is. Figure it out. Save yourself and her. Promise me. He his shook his head. Those words would follow him to the end of the world. Her ice blue eyes lost their shine seconds after he made his promise. He would keep the promise he made his mom on her deathbed. Looking around he spotted a car. It had been sitting there too long. He wished he could see if there was someone inside but the windows were the darkest shade of tint possible. He shook his head once more and headed for the house. Something moved. He looked back at the car. “Josh?” looking behind him he found Alice with two bags in her hands. Around her neck were necklaces. How did he not notice the little fairy necklace Susan had bought her for her sixth birthday or the heart shaped locket, so much like the one his mom gave him, before?
“You ready?” she nodded. He could see so many questions swirl around in her eyes, “Did you get everything you wanted?” she handed him her bags and ran back into the house. A few seconds later, she came out with a small blue dog. She had kept everything she had received for her sixth birthday.
“Okay. I’m ready.” She shut and locked the front door and followed him to the car. He put her bags in the back seat and they climbed in; him in the driver’s seat. “Where are we headed?” she asked him as he pulled out of the driveway.
“To find answers.” He mumbled under his breath but to her he said, “My place then…. I don’t know after that. Maybe Texas.”
She nodded and looked out her window for a few minutes silently. “Why’d y’all leave?” She whispered never taking her eyes off the window.
He sighed it was bound to happen. “To protect you.” He went on to explain ‘them’ to her, opting to leave out how they killed their father. He explained that the only way to keep everybody alive, their mother had to run. “She never wanted to leave you behind but if we got caught they would have killed you first and Mom didn’t want that.”
“Then why did you come back?” she asked, finally looking at him. Her voice rose an octave.
“To protect you. Dammit, you saw that message. I didn’t put ‘red rum’ on your window. They’re after you. I didn’t even know you were that easy to find. I had been searching for you for at least two years. You basically disappeared after you got out of the system”. She looked down at her lap, his words played through her head.
Her head popped up. “Wait you wrote ‘you’re next’ on my window? Were you trying to give me a heart attack?”
He chuckled and shot her a glance. “I always picked on you, baby sister. You made it so easy. You fell for everything. I was hoping that hadn’t changed. I knew…”
She interrupted him. “You’ve been sending me those messages for the past two weeks?”
He pulled into his driveway before looking at her. “What messages?”
“You know the messages that said things like…. ‘Jonathan watched his mom died then his sister. We saved him for last. He went down with a fight. We took his tongue. He couldn’t scream. Little shock waves were sent next through his body. His heart couldn’t handle them. He died of cardiac arrest. You’re next…. We’re coming for you.’”
Unbuckling his seat belt, he said, “I’m not that disturbed. Why haven’t you gone to the police? I can’t protect you for long.” He said turning in his seat. He watched as she chewed on her bottom lip. She was nervous and scared. She was never good at hiding her emotions. She always gave them away when she chewed on her lip. Mom always said that that was her nervous habit. One she never noticed. “Come with me.” She got out the car still holding on to the stuffed blue dog. “Why do you still have that stupid thing?” he asked as he unlocked his door.
She looked down at it. “It’s not stupid. Do you remember what you said when you gave it to me?” he shook his head no. “You told me that you’d always be my protector and that even if you weren’t with me or near me, this dog would be the part of you that keeps me safe. It kept me safe and calm for the twelve years that I was being moved from place to place. The same with fairy necklace it was and is a reminder of Susan. The same with the locket of mom’s.”
He sighed and looked down for a second. Shaking his head, he unlocked the front door. He remembered that. He meant it and she had taken it to heart. “I’m sorry I called it stupid.” He walked into the windowless black two-story house he called home. It had been abandoned for years. Maybe that’s how they knew where he was, his house did stand out. Opening the door and stepping in he knew something was wrong. “Alice go get in the car, lock the door. Here take this with you.” he said handing her the gun he pulled from the waistband of his jeans. She took it. “Go.” She stood there staring at him. “Go!” she ran out to the car.
She got out to the car, unlocked the door, climbed in and locked the doors. What was going on? Who were “they”? She needed to know. A few seconds later, Josh came out of the house, no bags no nothing. “What’s going on?” she asked after she unlocked the door and he got in.
“Change of plans. We’re staying her and I’m going to figure out who ‘they’ are.” He told her through gritted teeth.
“I’m going to help.” She told him. He looked at her, started the car and threw it into reverse. Josh took a deep breath, and pulled out. “What happened in there?”
He ignored her. Alice kept on asking. He turned on the radio on and turned it up to drown her out. She wanted…. No, she needed to know. Her life was on the line and he didn’t even seem to care. All he wanted was to find out who “they” were. Maybe there was more behind the story than what he told her. He was mumbling under his breath. Turning down the music she said, “Dammit Josh. Tell me what the hell happened back there. Why are we running into the fire instead of away?”
Because they’ve got my daughter, Alice. They killed Susan and Dad…” he stopped. “And you’re the key to whatever they want. Now, not only am I risking my life, I’m risking my six year old daughter’s too.” Alice looked at him, none of it made sense.
She was the key. The key to what? “Your daughter?” was all she could say. Questions on top of questions and all she could ask was your daughter.
“Yes Alice. I actually moved on when we left. I did it to make Mom happy. She missed you too much. She wanted babies around. It was stupid. There was no reason to miss you. You were always a little brat who would run to Dad to get your way. You never did what Mom asked you to. But she missed you. Not Susan not even Dad. You, its bull if you ask me.” He said his voice dripping with venom and distaste. She just stared at him. Tears filled her eyes. She never knew he hated her that much. Maybe he was right. Maybe she wasn’t worth it.
As tears rolled down her face, blurring her vision, she watched Josh clinch and unclench his jaw. He was once again mumbling under his breath. Clearing her throat she said, “Save your daughter, Josh, but leave me out of it. If you don’t think I’m worth it, if you hate me that much, take me home and forget you ever brought me up.”
He hit his breaks. “Gotdammit! What part of you’re the key do you not understand?!” he threw the car into park, unbuckled his seat belt and turned to look at her. “They’ve got Hailie! If I give you up, they’ll kill her. I watched them torture Susan to death. She was only eleven! She just wanted to go home. She was willing to tell them where you were. ‘The worst thing a person can do is betray their own flesh and blood.’ They told us. You don’t understand how hard it is to stand there and watch them minute by minute push an eleven-year-old girl’s body to her pain tolerance level. They tortured her for three hours. Then she passed out. When she woke up, they sent electrical charges through her body. When her heart finally gave out, they had broken seven of her fingers. They had burned her arms severely, slashed up her face and cut up her legs. I know what they’ll…” Alice struggled with her seat belt, but when she got it off, she flew out of the car. On the side of the road, she emptied her stomach. The image of Susan’s body mutilated was too much. He knew it would be that’s what he needed. We know you have Alice. Betray her and your daughter dies. The worst thing a person can do is betray their flesh and blood.
When she finished emptying her stomach, she climbed back in. “Why?” she asked her voice trembling.
“Because… you need to know. Even if I wanted to forget about you, they’d know. They’ve been to your house. Now if only I knew where to… Marissa!” he buckled back in, put the car in drive and made a u-turn. “F*****g b*****t. Don’t tell me she’s dead. Please let her be alive. They drove for five minutes. He reached Marissa’s house. The front door was hanging on by one hinge. They broke the front windows. The bricked-up house that once looked inviting and warm was now desolated and cold. Ger sat there mouth wide open.
When he finally got his body to cooperate, he bolted from the car to the house. Alice sat there a little longer. When she finally got out and walked into the house, Josh was leaning over the body reading a note. He looked up. “Alice, meet my ex-wife Marissa. She’s dead because of you…” Alice stared at the limp dead body. It looked as if someone had taken a bat to her face repeatedly. Alice’s stomach started to turn again. Is this what Susan’s body had looked like when they had killed her? She watched as Josh moved one of the arms. That when she saw it.
“Josh! We gotta go!” he looked at her with this indescribable look. “Look under that arm, you just triggered something. This place might blow.” He looked down to see the wires. Dropping the arm, he bolted for the door with Alice right behind him. They were a half way between the house and car when the house exploded. The blast waves threw Alice a few feet behind the car and slammed Josh up against it. When he got his bearings, he moved his leg to test to make sure it wasn’t broken, by the blow. His knee had slammed into the car and he was fairly sure he bruised it. He groaned as he put his full weight onto his legs. Limping he headed for the back of the car. Alice was laying spread eagle, unconscious with blood spilling out of the left side of her forehead.
He leaned down with all of his weight on his good leg and shook her slowly. “Alice?” she groaned. “C’mon, wake up, we gotta get to your house.” She reached up and touched her head as she sat up. She pulled her hand back and stared at it. “C’mon.” she got up and followed him to the car.
Getting in she reached into the glove department and pulled out some gauze. “S***. This hurts so bad. Why are we going back to my house?” she asked putting the gauze to the cut on her head.
He pulled the note out of his pocket, handed it to her, and started the car. You’ve figured it out. Well she died. We told her to just hand over the kid. She wouldn’t so we beat her. If you really want Hailie back follow our clues. Keep your sister safe or your daughter dues. Flesh and blood… that your first clue. Head back to Alice’s house your next clue is there. Hope you’ll get it. It would be a shame to kill this pretty little girl. She folded the note back up. “Now do you understand?” she nodded.
“Flesh and blood is our first clue?” she mumbled. “That makes no sense.” He shrugged. They rode the rest of the way in silence. She watched as miles of dirt flew past them. The sky was cloudy with fluffy white clouds. The kind that would make her climb up to the roof of whatever foster home she was in for that month, she would sit up there for hours, finding different images in the clouds and praying that her mother would come back for her. Wiping tears from her eyes, she looked at Josh. “What did I do that made you hate me so much?”
“You were born.” He told her, his voice full of hate. Never taking his eyes off of the partial dirt road. She nodded; glad he wasn’t watching her reactions. Flesh and blood. Could it be a lesson they were supposed to learn? Flesh and blood. He hated her because she was born. “Why did Suzie die?”
He pulled into her driveway. “Because she was willing to give you up. All because she wanted to sleep in her own bed at night.” Getting out she head for the house unlocked the door and walked inside. She stood in the middle of the living room. “She died because she was willing to give me up. ‘The worst thing a person can do is betray their flesh and blood.’ Our first clue was flesh and blood.” She told herself. Josh walked in, a knife in his hand. She looked at it. It was their father’s favorite knife. It was the only thing beside his body the police couldn’t find when they pulled his half-destroyed truck out of the river. “Dad’s favorite knife, flesh and blood.” She looked around. Someone had moved a paperweight on her desk, she walked over to it. Sitting under the paperweight was a piece of paper. She picked it up and read it out loud. “If you know my secret you have my number. Call me. If not your next clue will soon show up.” she looked at Josh. “It can’t be. There’s no way.”
“No way what?” Josh asked looking at her.
She pulled out her phone and dialed a number she hadn’t dialed in fifteen years. She hit call and put it on speaker. “Ah. So you figured it out. How are you my dear baby girl.” the voice said when he answered.
Tears filled her eyes at the sound of his voice. “Daddy… I thought you were dead.”