HARRY lined up the fireworks in the bottom of the grill. He put them in two rows, one on top of the other. He covered them with driveway gravel and laid Evelyn on top like it was a bed. I watched him braid the fuses together. Everything in the world felt fragile. I pulled a fist of grass out of the yard and rolled it between my palms to make her a pillow.
We found Evelyn behind the house across the street. It’s been empty for as long as I can remember. Weeds had grown around her legs. Her head was pinned under a fallen tree. We had to dig her out so she didn’t snap in two.
I wanted to track down the people who used to live there and return her. If we found them, we might end up in the paper or on TV. We could even be on Against All Odds with Cal McIntosh. He ends every episode with a feel-good story to balance out everything else he reports.
Harry said that was dumb. Nobody wants to hear about a brother and sister who run away to return a doll. Especially not a beat-up old doll that somebody forgot about in their back yard.
I’m the one who named her Evelyn and came up with her backstory. I said she went away to college and graduated magna cum laude. Then she moved home and got a job with the same company that employed her father. Only Evelyn didn’t work in the factory. She was a scientist at the corporate office. One night when she was working late, she overheard a conversation about industrial waste being dumped in a creek next to an elementary school. The same elementary school where Harry and I go. Evelyn was going to expose them, so they killed her. She died trying to save us.
Harry lit the fuse and closed the grill. We dove at the ground. I could hear Evelyn trying to escape amongst the explosions. She threw her body against the metal walls again and again until everything got quiet.
Harry opened the lid. “She’s dead.”
She wasn’t dead. She didn’t look any worse than when we found her. Everything that could be hurt already had been. She was immune to whatever we could put her through.
“Now, to tie up loose ends.” He rubbed his palms together. He was talking about her family. The only way Harry would go along with my story was if we were the corporation. Her parents knew about the waste so we had to kill them, too.
We checked the house. The doors were unlocked.
Evelyn sent an email to the top three executives explaining what she overheard and how instead of bothering anyone with a rumor, she checked it out herself. She went to the creek. She took pictures. She was horrified. They knew the effects of the waste just as well as she did. It was poison. Plain and simple.
She gave them one week to announce and implement a plan of action. If they failed to do so, she would go public on the largest platform she could find.
There is a framed photograph on each wall of every room in the house. The photographs are close-ups of a body. Each room details a different stage of healing. In one bedroom, there is a wrist, hip, and neck, bruised with a tight cross-stitch of purple and blue. In the living room, there is a shoulder, a temple, and knuckles with bruises that have faded to the color of nicotine stains. In the kitchen, there is a mouth, a stomach, and a knee. There are no signs of injury. It’s hard to tell if this is the beginning or the end. There are other rooms we didn’t go into where the wounds are still open. There are rooms where the wounds are still bleeding.
In the basement, there are no pictures. It’s empty except for old cardboard boxes stacked against a wall. They look like they were packed by strangers. The boxes contain household objects. We pull everything out and sort it into three piles, one for Evelyn and each of her parents. In order to kill them, they need to have a form and a heart. We can find the hearts here, but we’ll need to get them clothes.
We dig through our parents’ dresser for things they won’t miss. I get an outfit of my own as well. Harry says, “We don’t need an Evelyn. She’s already dead.”
I don’t correct him. And I don’t say I’m worried about her being alone. I tell him there is no harm in being sure about anything.
Evelyn’s Dad is a plaid dress shirt and jeans stuffed with knotted up Christmas lights. We use an old remote control for his heart.
Her Mom is a patterned blouse and wool slacks. We fill her with tablecloths and curtains. Her heart is a plastic bag full of half-burned tealights.
There is a box of newspapers documenting the monumental and tragic occasions of the world. Harry and I ball up the front pages and stuff them in my clothes. For Evelyn’s heart, I use a clay unicorn she made when she was little. It’s disproportionate and blocky and it doesn’t have a horn. The only way to tell it’s a unicorn is because she painted the broken base red before it was fired. I wrap it in a newspaper about the Challenger exploding and root it in my shirt.
We carry the three of them upstairs to the kitchen table. They don’t need to be posed or adjusted. This is natural for them. They look like they’re having a conversation. They look like they love each other. Everything feels fragile again.
Harry wants to know how we’re going to kill them. Should he look for an axe in the garage? Maybe we should drown them?
I tell him I want to think about it. We’ll come back tomorrow. I don’t want to rush anything. I want to do this right.
The executives call Evelyn to a late-night meeting in the top floor conference room. They explain that to change where they dump waste now would mean admitting they haven’t been following regulations all along. This would raise too many questions. Imagine the fines. The public scorn. The company would never recover.
They attempt to bribe her with a promotion and unlimited funding for her department. She refuses.
The lesser of the three, the executive with Junior in his title, is the first to attack. He looks like a younger version of my father. He jumps at Evelyn and misses. As he scrambles to his feet he kicks a marble pillar. There are four such pillars situated throughout the conference room, each with a different crystal sculpture on top. It rocks just enough that the sculpture, a bust of a unicorn, wobbles back and forth.
The other sculptures are of a sundial, a lighthouse, and a mortar and pestle.
He gets his hands around her throat.
The unicorn falls to the floor. The horn breaks off.
Evelyn works her way free and yells for help. Another executive jumps in. He puts her in a headlock. Flexes. Holds. He doesn’t understand why she isn’t dead yet. The only hard part is supposed to be getting away with it.
The third executive grabs the unicorn head and brings it down on Evelyn to finish the job.
They had decided beforehand that if it came to this, they would take her body to her parent’s house. They lived in a rural area where just about anything can look like an accident.
In the morning, I look across the street and see that Evelyn’s parents are gone. Something is wrong. They wouldn’t have left Evelyn alone. Not when they knew she was in danger. I go over there by myself to check it out. I want to find them before Harry notices. Otherwise, he’s going to say this is my fault for waiting.
The doors are locked. I break in through the garage and go from room to room. There is no trace of them anywhere. Once I get upstairs, I hear a set of footsteps below me.
I call Harry’s name. The footsteps stop. When they start again, they are running. This isn’t Harry.
I am in the worst bedroom. The pictures show someone close to death. The pictures look like they’re black and white, but they aren’t.
The footsteps reach the top of the stairs.
It’s the Junior executive.
He sees me in the doorway. He is getting ready to charge.
Cal is nervous. Evelyn should be here by now. He checks the lobby again. Still nothing. He has no idea what she drives but he goes to the parking lot anyway. She wouldn’t be the first person to get jitters right before showtime. Until a few days ago he hadn’t thought about her since college. Then she called out-of-the-blue saying she had an exclusive for him. It was big. The implications were terrible. They met for dinner to discuss her story. Cal wouldn’t have believed her, but she had pictures. They agreed that they needed to get her in front of the cameras as soon as possible.
Cal goes back inside. The producer asks what he wants to do. Evelyn had given Cal a flash drive, in case anything happened to her. He reaches into his pocket and squeezes the flash drive in his fist. He tells the producer they’ll do a normal show. No exclusive. He lets go of the drive and settles in at his desk. As the title card flashes onscreen and the theme music fades, a tree falls in a backyard and no one is around to hear it.
I shut the bedroom door and brace myself against it with all my weight. The Executive leans against the doorframe and tells me to open up. He says he is there to save me.
He crouches down and says it again to the space between the door and the frame. He’s right up against the wood. I can feel his breath in my mouth. In my stomach.
I step back and notice something in the picture closest to the door. There is a drop of discolored skin on a left shoulder. Like on my left shoulder. I pull at the neck of my shirt and check. It’s the same.
I always thought it was a raindrop; that it was perfect when I was born and as I grew it stretched and became distorted. But that’s wrong. It’s a horn. It has always been a horn.
I look closer at the other pictures. They’re all me.
I open the door and walk down the hall. The Executive walks next to me. He thinks he has me. I hold fast. Look straight ahead. Act casual. He can’t hurt me if I don’t stop for him.
I go to the kitchen and sit across from Evelyn. I ask her if this is the man who killed her. She is not concerned about him. She is concerned about me.
She leans forward and holds my hands in her own. She explains all of the things that will happen in my life; where I will live and the obstacles I’ll face. She repeats a house number over and over and says to not forget it. It will be important later on. She tries to explain how to know if someone wants to hurt me or not. It’s going to be harder to sort out than I think. She is about to give me a list of names, but the room fills with smoke. Everything around us is on fire.
Harry must have gotten tired of waiting. I see him through the window, across the street. He’s standing in the dining room with Mom and Dad. They are watching me. Not one of them makes a move.
Evelyn burns away quickly.
The flames race up the walls around me.
I close my eyes and whisper, making promises to the world.
Once I’m done, I’ll make my escape.
I’ll get away without a mark.
And I’ll never come home again.
Nathan Willis is a writer from Ohio. His stories have appeared in various literary journals including Booth, Hobart, Atlas & Alice, X-Ray, Cotton Xenomorph, and Little Fiction. He can be found online at nathan-willis.com and on Twitter: @Nathan1280.