Authors: Christina Dodd
Tags: #Virtue Falls, #Romance, #Mystery, #ghost
LOVE NEVER DIES
A Virture Falls Short Story
Copyright 2016 by Christina Dodd
All rights reserved. No part of this work may
be reproduced in any fashion without the
express written consent of the copyright holder.
The Relatives is a work of fiction.
All characters and events portrayed herein
are fictitious and are not based on any real
persons living or dead.
LOVE NEVER DIES
A Virture Falls Short Story
A murder committed. . .a love lost. . .and a ghost haunted by the past.
Only one woman can right all the wrongs. . .if she can survive the night. . .
Midnight in the oldest park in Virtue Falls, Washington
I've been dead over seventy years and still when I hear a woman scream, I find myself standing, listening, wanting to help and unable to do anything except watch.
Tonight was no exception. Eugene Park was a blur as I moved through the leafy bushes, over a brown, neglected lawn made scraggly with the drought of August. I reached the scene in time to see the killer level the second blow, taking the girl's cheek half-off with a machete.
The pitch of her scream changed from surprise to pain to horror.
This female wasn't yet a woman; she was perhaps sixteen years of age, a girl running away from home or a dumb kid meeting some other dumb kid for a tryst or, from the way she was dressed and the late hour, a young prostitute trolling for a wayward client.
But no matter what her intention, she didn't deserve to die. Not like this.
The killer grasped her hair and twisted, bringing her to her knees. He raised the machete.
I dove at him, desperate to stop the carnage.
I swirled through, as useless in death as I had been in life.
I was still airborne when he scalped her with a wild swipe.
Gore splattered the sidewalks, the fountain, the shrubs. Her screams became whimpers. I could hear her heart slow as it fought to pump the rapidly decreasing supply of blood. I could see her soul struggling to remain within her body.
No one ever made their passage easily.
A few more cruelly enthusiastic blows and the girl died. Her soul rose from the body. She looked at me reproachfully.
As I watched, she slipped away.
The killer took his time gathering up the body. He tweaked her clothes, ran his hand through the swathe of hair in his hand, took a sickening pleasure in the cooling body. Throwing her over his shoulder, he started up the walk toward the dark corner of the park where the park merged into forest. At the last minute, he turned and looked right at me.
"Interesting, isn't it?" he asked, and, "Are you going to stick around for all the killings?"
Eugene Park, unkempt and neglected, was a two square block piece of land on the outskirts of town. As far as I could tell, the park served merely as a tree-laden shelter for the homeless, a place for dogs to relieve themselves, and a shortcut for those in a hurry.
There for days and months and years, I waited, destined to witness events I did not wish to see. I didn't understand what I was doing there. What purpose did I serve? What penance was I enacting? I had died trying to help a young woman under attack. Surely I didn't deserve hell.
Yet my mother always said life wasn't fair, so maybe death was nothing more than a continuation of injustice. Maybe I was paying for my stupidity in leaving Sofia the way I had.
Regrets. Too many regrets. Too many deaths. Too many women's faces dissolving into disbelief, agony and death. I remembered each one.
The leaves turned orange, then brown, then withered and whirled away on the cold wind. Snow covered the rhododendrons; they became elfish mounds. The flakes retreated, then returned, then retreated. Rain came and froze the park into a glossy sheet of ice. The long darkness of the north was upon us, and I was alone. I told myself alone was good, because
was not here with his machete.
It was just past sunset when I felt a vibration not unlike the dramatic, opening chord on a Spanish guitar. A young woman had stepped across the park's boundary into my territory . . . and his. She huddled into her coat, moving from the side of the park near the canyon, taking the short cut toward town. She wore a silly knit hat with tassels dangling from the sides and a matching knit scarf and I could see no more than her upper lip, the tip of her nose and as she passed under each street light, her eyes looked gray.
Yet she glowed like a coal that gave off soft blue warmth on the coldest day.
She reminded me of Sofia.
You probably think every pretty woman reminds me of Sofia. I assure you, that's not true. For one thing, Sofia was not pretty. She was beautiful, the perfect combination of Spanish aristocracy and American Indian. She had long, dark, curly hair, noble cheekbones, generous lips that kissed as only Sofia could kiss. She had a curvaceous figure that has haunted my eternity, yet for all that, it wasn't her beauty or her womanly attributes that made me fall in love with her. It was the laughter that was so a part of her, the kindness, the generosity of spirit.
Sofia had been my perfect mate . . . and I had failed her. She is forever lost to me.
I waited at the center of the park where the two walks intersected in the circle around the old stone fountain. No water ran at this time of year. Summer flowers were brown and broken. Yet this woman's radiance attracted and warmed.
One of the regulars, a homeless man who huddled beneath a tall cedar tree, saw her. Rising, he stalked toward her. For a bulky man, Cleardale walked like a ballet dancer, one foot directly in front of the other. On him the gait wasn't graceful, but almost overbalanced; he looked like a tree swaying in a high wind. I recognized his comportment; he was in the grip of his violent griefs and his equally violent rages. He shed flickers of madness as clearly as he shed orange cedar foliage off his shoulders and back.
He lumbered over to the woman and in a pleading voice, he called her by his wife's name. "Tammy . . ."
The girl pulled the scarf away from her mouth. "I'm sorry, I'm not Tammy. I'm Areila."
First mistake. She should have never answered him.
He stared at her, and I could see his confusion, then the gradual growth of his anger. "Don't lie to me. You liar!"
"I'm not Tammy." She pulled off her hat and showed a tumble of black hair held back in a band, a snub nose and a sweet, if nervous smile. "See? We've never met before."
"What have you done with the children?" His voice rose. "Why aren't you home taking care of them?"
She pulled her hat on and glanced behind her as if trying to decide if she should go back. But to reach lights, people, commerce, she needed to go forward. So she stepped out briskly, trying to ignore him.
Cleardale was impossible to ignore. He was big. He was threatening. He jumped in front of her so she had to go around him, then jumped in front of her again. "Did you kill them? Did you neglect them until they died? They're dead, aren't they?"
She cut to the left, taking a sidewalk that would get her out of the park by a shorter route.
He wasn't about to let her get away and I knew — I
— that when he was like this, he could see me. So I moved closer, stood beside the edge of the walk, and softly I called his name. "Cleardale . . ."
He heard me. Sometimes they didn't, but he jumped and turned, saw me observing him. He froze. He lifted his hands before his face as if to defend himself from me. "Don't!"
"Leave her alone." I spoke gently, fearing if I seemed threatening he would harm her. But I have observed that there is something about the mere presence of a ghost that terrifies those who see it. And to hear the ghost . . . well.
Cleardale turned and ran, his big feet thumping across the grass. In dread, he looked back over his shoulder. He blundered into a tree. He slipped on an icy patch of snow. He disappeared into the night.
I turned back to the young lady expecting she would have run in the opposite direction. After all, that would have been the smart thing to do.
But she was looking at something.
She was looking at me.
"Thank you." She spoke to
. She nodded at
. When I nodded back, she stepped over the boundary of the park and into the world where I could not follow.
I watched her go in amazement.
She had seen me.
Part of my purgatory was that the only communication I could have was with the insane. No one saw me unless they were deranged with the pain that life had brought them, or unhinged by obsession or driven by the desire to beat, to slash, to murder. I always recognized the signs — the agony of the broken souls and the blistering fury of the cruelly insane.
Areila's soul burned clear and blue, yet she had seen me. I wanted to keep her with me, question her about herself, yet I watched her go with relief.
Tonight, Cleardale had served his purpose, for only Cleardale's presence had saved her life.
I gazed into the blot of shadow at the far end of the park.
Like a cruel, hungry spider, there the killer waited for his next prey.
That evening in the Virtue Falls Library
At the knock on her open office door, Kateri Kwinault looked up.
A young, attractive female waited there.
Sheriff Garik Jacobsen stood behind her and at her left shoulder.
Garik looked relaxed and slightly amused. Or maybe bemused, so Kateri knew whatever brought this young woman into the Virtue Falls library was nothing too serious. On the other hand, after he ushered the woman in, he stepped inside, shut the door, leaned against the wall and folded his arms. So he was interested in what happened next.
Kateri stood and extended her hand. "I'm Kateri Kwinault, the librarian here in Virtue Falls. Can I help you?"
In a single glance, the young woman accessed Kateri's disabilities and gently clasped her fingers. "I'm Areila Leon. I went into the police department to tell them how much I appreciated their official presence in Eugene Park earlier tonight and the sheriff suggested we come and talk to you. Although I don't know exactly . . . why. . .."
Kateri flicked a glance at Garik. She was beginning to understand and she wanted to ask when she had become Virtue Falls's official woo-woo expert. But she knew the answer, so she gestured at one of the cheap plastic chairs. "Won't you take a seat?" When Areila was seated, Kateri eased herself into her own chair. "Now — you say you saw someone in Eugene Park tonight?"
"Two somebodies. I'm an intern with the Banner Geological Study—"
Kateri nodded. No one visited Virtue Falls in the dead of winter unless they were an intern with the geological study or a medical supply salesman.
"—And when I finished my job it was five o'clock and dark, and I was in a hurry, so I crossed through the park." Areila must have seen the expression on Kateri's face because she glanced behind her at Garik. "It's the fastest way home."
"There's a homeless guy who's been there a couple of times before. I don't mean to cause him trouble, usually he seems simply . . . sad. But this time he started harassing me. He was in my face, asking where I had been, what I'd done with the kids." Areila's voice was steady, but Kateri's could see the slight tremble in her fingers.