Lucia came riding the dawn with that here-and-there hair and the carmine coat whispering forgotten poems around her fleshy thighs. Amelia leaned out of the doorway, breathing in the fading bus fumes and the rose-and-caramel scent that was Lucia. It had been too long; too many days without speaking, too many nights with loneliness and house groans keeping her awake. All that was gone now, the lonely nights carved away like worm holes in an apple. Lucia had come home.
“But you know I don’t live here,” she said on the porch steps with Amelia’s stick-figure arms squeezing her, with Amelia’s weird little brain drowning in a sea of rose petals and caramel bonbons. “Sweetie, I’ve got to go back to town now and then. I need my job.”
“I know, I know,” Amelia sang, rose-drunk, face hidden in Lucia’s hair. “Please don’t talk about your job, Luce, because I hate it.”
“Yes, yes.” Lucia patted Amelia’s shoulders. “Shall we go inside? You haven’t even let me put down my bags, you little monster.”
Amelia giggled as she darted inside to put the kettle on. She skipped through the kitchen opening and closing cupboards, setting the table with Lucia’s favorite cup and her own kitten-adorned one. The house filled with good sounds now, sounds like Lucia taking off her boots, Lucia hanging her coat, Lucia heading upstairs with the bags. When she came back down Amelia poured the lavender tea and waved at her to come sit down.
“How have you been?” Lucia had calm, normal-colored eyes that Amelia had been jealous of at first, because hers were strange and broken. But Lucia said they were pretty and as long as Amelia didn’t look too long into the mirror, she believed it.
“Good. Bored.” Amelia fidgeted with the tablecloth. The questions. She didn’t much like the questions. Lucia should know better than to ask them, because they made her love Amelia less.
“Bored?” Lucia’s eyes narrowed. “Honey…”
“It doesn’t mean what you think it does.” Except it did. The boredom was a sickness that ate at her, and it came crawling in through the window on lonely days. It was a tall pale man with burning eyes and a smile that went all the way around his head. It was hungry and mean and it played naughty games. “It was only once anyway.”
Lucia closed her eyes. Amelia quietly counted the wrinkles around them, one-two-three, one-two-three.
“It’s bad,” Lucia said at last, and opened her eyes again. “You know it is.”
“But he doesn’t. The man.” Amelia hanged her head. Her hands were curled in her lap like withered, useless claws. “I’ve told him, but he won’t listen.”
“Show me.” Lucia stood, her tea untasted. “Better just get it over with.”
Amelia held Lucia’s hand and led her through the tall grass, over to the shed. The sun peeking through the holes in the walls was so bright that no flashlight was needed to spot the bundle in the corner. She hadn’t been to see him for a few days and he had started to smell quite bad.
“Amelia…” Lucia didn’t vomit, like she’d done the first few times. “Who?”
“He knocked on the door. He’s not supposed to do that.” She tried to remember more, but whatever the boy had said or done had gone lost in the maze that was her brain. She did recall that his eyes were an impossible shade of blue. A sea that was still or stormy depending on the light.
“Right. We have to bury him.” Lucia tied her hair into a bun and grabbed the shovel and the wheelbarrow. The sounds she made as she was lifting the boy off the ground were just like the sounds he himself had made when Amelia killed him. Lucia pushed the wheelbarrow to the backyard and Amelia came after with the shovel. Her thoughts were fluffy and light as clouds.
“I don’t want to do this again.” Lucia dug the hole away from the other ones, beneath the cherry tree. The boy slipped into the ground as if he felt at home there. Amelia enjoyed that thought. His face was pale, as pale as that of the man with the smile going around his head, but now that Lucia was here Amelia knew that the wicked man didn’t really exist. He was a nightmare that felt real but wasn’t.
When the hole had been filled up again it was a patch of bare soil in a sea of swaying grass. Amelia said that it looked as small as if they’d buried a baby, not a boy, but Lucia’s wrinkles had multiplied and she didn’t smile. Back inside she washed her hands and showered and wept loudly in the bathroom, and then she came out and finished her cold tea.
“You need to learn how to be lonely.” Her hand fell on top of Amelia’s, warm and just a little dry. “You can’t keep doing this.”
“I won’t do a thing when you’re here.” Amelia tilted her head the way she had a lifetime ago, when her parents had been alive and could be persuaded to buy her sweets and curly-haired dollies.
“Not just then, Amy. You have to behave yourself when I’m off working, even when I’m gone for months.”
Months. Something clicked inside Amelia’s curly-haired head. Months was the wrong word, it was twisted and foul. Lucia had never used it before and she shouldn’t start now.
“You’re not on your own. Even when I’m not here, sweetheart, you’re never on your own.”
Amelia saw his bony fingers land on the window sill. A pale man, a man with burning eyes and a smile that went all the way around his head. Lucia kept talking but his smile, smile, smile drowned out her voice. His raspy voice danced through Amelia’s mind, stopping here and there to inhale the scent of rose and caramel.
Months? We can’t have that.
Months? We can’t
We can’t have
Elin Olausson is a fan of the weird and the unsettling. She has had stories featured in Curiouser Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Nightscript, and many other publications. Her debut short story collection Growth is out now from Dark Ink Books. Elin’s rural childhood made her love and fear the woods, and she firmly believes that a cat is your best companion in life. She lives in Sweden