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This is actually a chapter from the original story, which revolves around a girl named Elizabeth after she moves to a small town called Ketchikan in Alaska's southeast panhandle. However, this story is separate from Elizabeth's, although it ties in with the original plot. I wrote this mainly for fun; this chapter is a random one, so readers might be a little confused.
The following morning I found myself in the back yard, near the tiny patch of flowers Mama considered a garden, where I began yanking overgrown weeds out of the damp soil. They had grown almost a foot long and needed to be removed since their roots had started invading Mother's flower bed, which now resembled a wild jungle and lacked proper treatment.
There was dirt under my fingernails and on my dress, but it didn't bother me as much as the pink scratches on my hands. I'd been at it for more than an hour while Mama finished the laundry, and despite the exhausting effort, I felt like I'd gotten nowhere with the re-gardening. Not having the necessary tools only made the job harder, although Jacob had offered to buy the right equipment to make the task easier for me. But being the type of person I was, I'd refused to have him spend money on new supplies.
Over a quarter of the yard was free of grass when I heard a neigh of horses and looked up to find a carriage roll to a stop near the front of the cottage. A young woman stepped out, dressed entirely in royal blue, and grabbing the folds of her dress, she gracefully approached me from afar.
Her hair was blonde and fell in golden locks down either side of her face, which—when framed with elegant curls—almost resembled a doll. I stopped with whatever I was doing and waited until the girl was practically standing a few feet from where I sat crouched down on both knees. The stranger beneath the flowery sapphire-colored hat was unrecognizable, for I had never seen the woman in my life.
"Good morning," she greeted with a friendly smile, her pale hands folded in front of her. I didn't respond. "Forgive me for asking, but you are Miss Julie Macdove, correct?"
I shifted a little, and suddenly I caught a glimpse of her eyes, which were at first concealed entirely by shadow. For a split second I was convinced my mind was playing tricks on me, but on closer inspection, I was forced to believe that what I was seeing was, in fact, real.
The girl's eyes were venetian red.
A taut knot formed in my chest, making it almost impossible to breathe. I had the urge to run, or scramble as far away from her as I could, but I willed myself—with all my might—to remain where I was. If she'd wanted to harm you, I thought to myself, then she wouldn't have come this early. And most certainly not with a coachman.
"Yes," I answered her, struggling to keep my voice even.
The female c***ed her head, so that the pink blush applied to her sharp cheekbones caught my attention. She wasn't beautiful, although she did fit the description of "pretty." I had no doubt that she'd attracted men wherever she went, especially youthful ones in their twenties.
"I am Clara. Fredrick Dibbins' niece." Her introduction was short, simple. She didn't appear like the type to care about going into further details, which I found slightly odd. Perhaps her levels of impatience were lower than most. "I heard about your fiancé, Dan Colton. I've come to let you know that I am deeply sorry for . . . his disappearance. It must be difficult for you, I assume. As for your family."
At the mention of his name, my throat constricted and a stab of pain flooded throughout my body. Dan had been missing for weeks. The last I'd heard of him had been that day in the woods near the creek, when I'd suspected him of killing someone. After that, I never saw him again. Not even once.
"He's been away for months," I informed her, suspicion lingering in my words. This stranger's mysterious visit was beginning to concern me, for there was something about her that spelled trouble. At the moment, her intentions were entirely unclear. "There have been notices tacked to every building and brick in town. Why come to lay down your sympathies now? After this long?"
The blonde gazed at me shrewdly, almost amusingly. I couldn't tell if she was annoyed or if she simply felt challenged by the questions I was throwing at her. Whatever reason, it didn't seem to please her. "I've just come from Greymouth a couple days ago," she explained. "Therefore I received the news of your fiancé long after my arrival. I was not aware of . . . your engagement."
"The engagement was broken when he vanished," I affirmed, fighting to keep my sorrow hidden from plain sight. "A search party was sent out for him, but he was never found." Throwing a handful of weeds and grass into the pail at my feet, I added, "I appreciate your cordiality, but you should not have come here. Please do tell Mr. Dibbins I said hello, if you are planning on stopping by his market."
Realizing that the subject was closed to further discussion, the blonde stepped back and regarded me silently for a while. After a moment, she said, a little coldly, "Well, it was a pleasure meeting with you. I wish you a pleasant and wonderful evening." Then, turning on her heels, she slowly made her way through the field and over to the coachman, who sat waiting for her.
As the girl rounded the carriage to occupy the empty spot behind the driver, the two horses strapped to the front let out a startled whine and shrank against one another, their hooves kicking up a thick cloud of dust. One of them emitted a terrified cry, gave a jerk of its head, and retreated a few steps backward. The blonde glanced back at me one last time, and as I stared into that inhuman face, Dan's words came rushing back to my head like the wind, bringing along with them old strips of memory.
"Y-you don't understand," he whimpered, shuddering. "She chased me, Julie . . . she scared away the horses and w-went after me."
In an instant, my fingers grew absolutely numb and just like that, all the pieces started to fall into place. The tangled weeds in my fist slipped from my hand and landed beside my knees, and as I watched, the blonde turned, and lifting her dress up with one hand, she climbed into the coach and signaled for the driver to go.
Even long after she was gone, I remained in the garden unmoving, still as a statue, and hating myself for refusing to believe the truth, the fact that something had happened to him that night, the fact that she had been after him, and the fact that I had started to lose him second by second.
. . .
The sun was poking faintly from behind a dark cloud when the hand on the clock struck three, immediately alerting my mother, who sprang from her chair and spun me around to face her.
"Don't let anyone in the house," she instructed, planting a quick kiss on my left cheek. "Also, remember to lay out the clothing line for the dresses to dry. The weather's not that great, but I think it will do."
I nodded and handed her grandma's old shawl, which I had been carrying on my arm for at least fifteen minutes. "Alright, Mama. Stay safe."
"I will," she promised with a warm smile, brushing a dark strand of hair out of my eyes. "Your father and I will try to be home before nightfall, so don't think twice about going down to the creek by yourself. Those woods don't look safe no more."
"I won't," I assured her, returning the smile, but a little forcefully. "Jacob said he'll come by today. So there's nothing to worry about, Mama. Just have fun and enjoy your dinner at the Correns'."
"Well, alright then," she sighed, wrapping the shawl firmly around her shoulders. "Your father must be growing anxious by now. I better go. I know how impatient he can get when he's kept waiting." Giggling enthusiastically, she clutched her skirts, wheeled around, and glided gracefully out the door.
I waved to them, stopping only once the carriage was out of sight and they were but a mere speck in the distance. But the instant they were gone, my heart caved.
Flashbacks of the night Dan came running to me after he was bitten had been swimming around my head all day, nagging me repeatedly, and every time I thought about how selfish I had been to believe that he'd been lying, the guilt just poured right out of me until I became temporarily restless.
Desperate to take my mind off things, I hung the clothes out to dry, and when that wasn't enough, I scrubbed the dishes clean and rinsed the stone porch with a bucket of water. The crooked wooden fence surrounding the yard needed fixing, so I went back inside the cottage to retrieve some nails from Papa's tool box. Since I wasn't certain how many I needed, I piled some into a separate chest and carried it with me to the back door.
I had only just entered the cramped kitchen when a voice I didn't recognize at first quipped from somewhere to my right, "Nice day, isn't it?"
Alarmed by the unforeseen guest, I dropped the small chest and it crashed to the floor, spilling its contents everywhere. The rattling of dozens of rusty nails sounded loudly like a clap of thunder, tinkering noisily against one another, some spiraling in different corners of the room. Several hit my foot, but I hardly felt a thing as I stared into Dan's crimson eyes, which had impulsively flickered to the nails scattered all around my feet.
He didn't move from where he sat on top of the dining table, twirling a large, sharp-edged knife in one hand. The counter had started to chip away underneath its pointy tip, and a few scratches here and there told me he'd been toying around with the thing for quite some time. I hadn't even heard him enter. His ability to come in and out of the house without making a single racket had started to frighten me, for he was more of a ghost at moments than an actual living, breathing human.
Nowadays, however, I questioned how "human" he really was.
Pretending as if nothing had happened, he went on, "It's been a while. How's life, Jules? Fun?" His gaze met mine, holding me in place.
I remained silent, panic flooding my brain. My heart began to beat a little faster, and I think he heard the frantic rhythm because he smiled faintly to himself as if it pleased him. I couldn't remember the last time he'd called me that. Jules.
It felt like years ago.
"Dan . . . ," I whispered, unable to bring myself to speak. There was so much I wanted to ask him, but he'd warned me that he wasn't the same boy I remembered, the same one who vowed to always love me. I'd lost that boy the night he left my family and I to grieve over his disappearance.
Dan gave no sign that he'd heard a single thing I said, and instead continued to play with the bowie knife, on foot propped on a chair, the other dangling off the edge of the table. I glanced quickly at the door, which was a good ten or so feet away. Undoubtedly, I would become a victim of the weapon in his hand before I even reached the handle.
"I was going to drop by sooner, but . . . seeing that your parents were here, I decided to wait for a bit," he continued calmly, almost too casually. I peeped at the window, mentally calculating the time in my head. It must've been around four o'clock by now. There were still about two hours till dusk. "I gotta admit, you and your family pulled through just fine without me. 'Tough as a jewel.' I never forget that." His smirked sportively, and instantly I remembered how I used to cherish that old phrase.
My lips parted, but no words left my mouth. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, except his uninvited presence in the room had alarmed me to the point where I couldn't even think straight. Not knowing what else to do, I looked to my right, and slowly Dan's eyes landed on the antique vase Jacob had purchased on my birthday, perched neatly on one of the bottom shelves.
"Hydrangeas?" he murmured, more to himself than to me. I swallowed. "I can't recall ever buying those for you . . ." His eyebrows puckered in thought, then relaxed just as easily. Something in the way he spoke told me he wasn't fooled: he knew about Jacob and the others. He probably even knew about the proposal.
"Dan," I repeated, my voice soft. The name barely made it past my lips. I tried again. "Dan, why are you here?"
His attention was on me in an instant. "To see you. I thought that's what you wanted."
"Yet you come after this long?" I replied, my words laced with agony. "After all that pain you put my family through? For months you refused to return home to me. No letters, no goodbyes, nothing. And now suddenly you show up here as if everything's alright?"
His expression stiffened. "I did that to keep you safe."
"From what? The monster you've become?"
Ire flared in Dan's eyes, giving him the appearance of a malign killer. I'd never seen him look so infuriated and depraved until at that very moment. He was a whole different person when he was choleric.
Trying my best to reason with him, to save that part of him that was doomed to suffer for eternity, I divulged, "I know who turned you, Dan. I finally do."
Not a breath of air escaped him. He remained completely silent, unmoved. There wasn't a single twitch of an eye or even the slightest motion of a finger.
There was nothing.
I continued, out of hope that he would listen, take my words into deep regard. "The girl with the blonde curls . . . the red eyes. Clara. It was her, wasn't it? That . . . fiend did this to you."
"Don't talk about her that way," he cut in sharply.
"I would never do something like that," I whispered, the truth spilling from my mouth. "I would never hurt you like that, Dan. Not ever."
"Hurt me?" he echoed, laughing coldly. He sounded so dead, so ruthless, that I had a hard time believing he was the same Dan Colton who promised me a life of happiness. "You left me for him. For that indecent hybrid boy every darling in town fantasizes about. And to think that you truly cared for me."
Before I could defend myself, he cooed, "You know what that's called, Jules? It's called betrayal. Deception. Treachery." He paused and slid off the table, swinging the knife back and forth in his hand. "But you wouldn't know that, now would you? You, who had me wrapped around your finger, nice and tight. I have to admit, you had me fooled . . . kinda like a mouse in a trap." Amusement trickled into his words, and immediately I realized he was mocking me.
"I left you?" I gasped in disbelief. "You abandoned me, Dan! For months I was miserable. Not knowing where you were, what you were doing, where you were staying during those stormy nights. I went through hell without you! People accused my family for your disappearance, your mother blamed me for your choices, the whole town went crazy searching for you. And you're reproaching me?"
Resentment flared in his narrowed eyes. I willed myself not to back down, but his behavior was beginning to terrify me. His intentions were unclear, and at the moment being alone with him in the house did not seem as safe as I would have expected. He can't possibly harm me, can he? I thought to myself. Dan can't possibly hurt me.
When he didn't utter a single word, I forced my lips to move, and as the statement clung to the tip of my tongue, my voice cracked, making it almost impossible to speak. "You told me you loved me," I reminded him, moisture collecting on my eyelashes. "You used to tell me that before I went to bed. I remember."
"And you spat those words right back in my face," he snarled, stepping forward. I shrunk away from him, my back to the wall. "Everything you said was a filthy lie, Julie. Every—little—thing."
"No," I burst out, my lips quivering. "No, it wasn't. I do care for you. I always—"
"Shut up," he snapped.
"Dan, please, I'm telling the tru—"
"I said SHUT UP!" he screamed, and then, before I could even lift a foot, his hand struck me so forcefully across the face that I stumbled against the kitchen wall, sobbing uncontrollably.
Searing hot pain exploded under my skin, bursting all along my jaw and cheekbone. There was a stinging in my facial muscles, like burning fire, accompanied by a sudden numbness that felt like poison in my veins. Tears cascaded from my eyes, blurring my vision and subduing everything to fuzziness. I looked up at Dan with trembling lips, one hand on my sore cheek to milden the pain, shocked beyond belief by what he'd just done. Never did I think him capable of corporeally abusing me like that. Even now.
"I warned you," he seethed, his expression completely devoid of remorse, of regret. I could sense his fingers coil tightly around the handle of the knife, strangling it. There was the soft clicking of a nail as it rolled away from my foot and toward his shoes, where it halted to a stop. "I told you to keep your mouth closed, and you refused to listen. That's what happens"—he lowered his face to mine, so that there was only a five inch distance between us—"when you continue to yap like a sick dog and don't do as you're asked. Understood?"
I blinked aside the tears clinging to my lashes, trying to rid myself of their presence, but more and more kept coming despite my attempts. His insults were only adding to the struggle, and as I stood there speechless, a few choked gasps escaped my lips against my will, making me appear vulnerably weak in his company.
"You're not Dan," I murmured, cringing away from him. His eyes followed my movements, watching my every step, and tauntingly he slid his foot in my way, blocking off all means of escape. I cowered against the wall, where I remained rooted to the spot. "I don't know why you're doing this, but this can't be you. You're not him. . ."
"You keep telling yourself that," he barbed cruelly.
You're not him, my instincts repeated. You're not him. You're not him. You're NOT him!
"Dan . . ." My lips were quavering so hard now that I could barely speak. There were tears coursing down my ruddy cheeks, and every time I tried to prevent them from shedding, more and more just came trailing behind. "I know this isn't you. Please stop. Please, please stop! She's manipulating your mind—"
"—and brainwashing you to do horrible things to people—"
Dan instantly pulled back, and suddenly, before I could process what was happening, he plunged the knife in his hand straight through the wall with such a violent outburst that I flinched in panic and shielded my arms over my face for fear of being hit again. I heard a chunk of the wood next to my head split apart under the force of his thrust and smelled debris on my hair, which thankfully had been spared by the blade's fine-edged tip.
Dan's ragged breathing filled the room, causing goosebumps to break out on my skin. I struggled to hold my tears back, but they revolted against me and continued to flow regardless of the boundaries I tried to force on them. He glared at me with such hatred then, such loathing, that it was hard to believe he was the same person who used to sneak sweets from right under his maid's nose and divide them between the two of us whenever we were alone.
I never imagined Dan would turn into something so barbaric.
Not even once.
Blenching under his vindictive stare, and praying he wouldn't lay another hand on me, I hugged the wall behind me for comfort, my entire body shuddering out of control. Without a word, he yanked the knife free by its hilt, cast one final dirty look in my direction, and stalked out of the kitchen, shoving open the back door with such force that it sprang wide and slammed shut by itself.
When several minutes passed in silence, in which nothing twitched nor moved, I sank to the floor and sat there weeping with my head on my knees for what seemed like centuries, feeling more helpless and alone than ever before.
I remained there for perhaps twenty minutes, shut out in my own misery, and when there were only another ten minutes or so left, I gathered the fallen nails neatly into the small chest, sobbing hysterically the whole time.
The sun was low in the horizon, peeping out from behind the trees, by five o'clock. After cleaning up the floor, I stood in front of the kitchen window, wiping the tears from my face while the stinging in my cheek failed to diminish. My muscles were still aching from the strong impact of his hand, and when I glanced into a mirror—a small portrait-like frame embellished in white pearls, which had been a gift from Dan a week or two after our engagement—I could see crystal-clear where his palm had left red fingerprints on my flesh like the vestige of a footprint in the dust. It would require some time to fade, but even after nearly an hour, I started to think it nearly impossible.
Sniffling loudly, I wiped my eyes with the front of my sleeves and took several deep breaths. But the second air entered my lungs, I broke down in tears and had to tell myself repeatedly that everything would be alright. Even if part of me questioned those promises.
I was still struggling to contain my emotions when the door creaked open once more and Jacob walked in, the top of his shirt partly unbuttoned and a look of exhilaration on his cheery face.
"Julie," he started, half stumbling over his words as he paused to draw some oxygen into his lungs, "I'm so sorry I'm late, I—" His eyes connected with mine, and just like that, every little ounce of excitement in his tone died out and the buoyant smile on his lips quickly vanished like a ray of sun behind a cloud. I tried to turn away so as to conceal my teary appearance, but I was a second too late.
"Julie. . ." His soft voice penetrated my distressed thoughts, almost bringing me to tears again. He stepped toward me, but I pretended to scrub the corners of the counter with a rag just so I wouldn't have to look him in the face. "What's the matter? Why are you crying?"
"It's nothing," I fibbed, lightly dipping the cloth in a bowl of water before wringing it in my shaky hands. To assure him further, I added, "I got some dirt in my eyes, that's all. From working the garden." My words came out somewhat feeble, and I only hoped he wouldn't notice the abrupt quirk in my speech.
He reached out and touched my left cheek with his gentle fingers, lightly stroking the area where Dan's palm had left a red bruise. I felt my eyelids drift closed and my heart flutter inside my rib cage as he murmured, "How did this happen?"
Despite the strong urge to tell him the truth, I lied, "I fell asleep on my hand after I went to rest up a bit. It's fine, Jake. Really."
Jacob didn't say anything, but I sensed his gaze on me, like he was searching for evidence of verity. When a couple seconds passed in quietude, I gandered up at him and found him staring at the empty hole in the wall where Dan's knife had left an aperture. Trepidation clutched at my chest as realization crossed his striking features, sparking a kind of hatred in his eccentric eyes.
"He hurt you, didn't he?" Softness still lingered in his words, but I could hear the bitterness in his voice, now laced with something like torment.
My lips moved in protest, however—before a single sound could escape my throat— Jacob stepped back, and with one final look at me, he stormed out the kitchen door. My fear tore loose, practically activating all the impulses in my brain and throwing my legs into motion.
"Jake!" I called out in desperation, bursting through the door into the back yard. I saw him leap over the broken wooden fence and head straight for the hills, already several yards ahead of me. Once I reached the fields, he broke into a full jog, then a run.
"Jacob, wait!" I pleaded, tearing through the tall grass after him. The weeds snagged at my dress, grazing my skin and heels, as strands of my hair caught the breeze and fluttered in the air around me. He didn't slow down. "Don't hurt him, please!"
Instead of breaking a single pace—or even stopping to listen to me—Jacob picked up speed and was a mile apart from me by the time exhaustion took its toll on my body and my legs temporarily gave out from fatigue. I collapsed on the ground, knees-first, begging for him to stop, to let Dan live, tears flooding my clammy eyes. But he didn't hearken, or even halt in his steps.
He kept running.