That thump again, in the hall. Like something thudding against the other side of her door.
“Elsie?” I call.
No answer, of course. Just another drum beat against the wood, like marking time for a dirge I can’t hear.
“Elsie-Bellsie?” I say.
I go down the hall and stand outside her closed door. I reach for the knob, the brass plating tarnished and worn off in some spots, because she used to hang bracelets and purses and backpack straps over it. Used to drive me crazy, because having to fix another broken thing in an already broken house just made me tired thinking about it. But she was twelve, and her mom said twelve-year old girls did things like that.
The instant I put my hand on the knob, the door vibrates with that bass bump again. I jerk back my hand.
To the world, I’m that sad guy in his thirties who came home one evening and found his wife and daughter killed, butchered like so much meat, from a home invasion gone wrong.
“Elsie?” I say once more. Calling to her makes me feel better. I miss her and her mom.
Thump. Then, thumpa-thumpa-thump.
“Elsie-Bellsie?” I ask.
I know what’s coming, but I can’t help it—I open her door. My breath catches in my throat like it always does, like for a moment, just for a moment, all the air has left her room and my own is pushing to the vacuum to get out of me. The room isn’t cold, or warm, but it’s empty. Not of furniture or all the little girl stuff she collected in her little life, that’s all still there, dim in the curtained room, like the colors have been sucked almost dry by some big beetle. Empty, like it would be if I’d cleared everything out and left just the carpet and walls. It echoes in there. I don’t know why.
Dusty, makes my nose itch, but that’s my poor housekeeping. I stand in the doorway, sucking the dust, my nose twitching like I’m holding back a sneeze. My hand is on the knob. I never let go of the knob, because when I do, it feels like I’m getting pulled farther into the room. Farther than the ten feet across to the other wall, like deep into a space that doesn’t have an end.
I step back and close the door. The instant the latch catches, I feel the wood thump. Then, thumpa-thumpa-thump. My heart does the same thing.
I go to the living room and settle into my recliner in front of the TV. I pick up my beer, take a sip, and look at the football game on the screen, but I forget who is playing. The lights are on; I always keep them on.
But it doesn’t help.
Because as soon as my eyes close, I hear the thump. Thumpa-thumpa-thump.
I open my eyes, and there she is.
Standing next to my chair.
Her colors are all faded and sucked out by that big beetle, too. Except the red. She’s covered in bright, vivid red. Her blood, from her chest where she was stabbed forty-seven times. Her face, bruised and beaten as if with the Louisville Slugger I used to keep by the front door. Her head, misshapen from that beating, like a melon that ripened on top of a bumpy rock.
She looks at me, but doesn’t say anything. Her blue eyes look at me, and look at me.
To the world, I’m that sad guy who came home from work one evening and found his wife and daughter butchered.
To me, I’m the guy who did it.
* * *