Trina sat with the police officer who had come to the gas station; she had called the police after escaping the group of women on the road.
“They surrounded the car?” the police officer asked, her pen poised over the notepad on the counter. “Did they hurt you?”
“No,” Trina assured her. “They were just all … standing there. They didn’t move, or say anything, or blink. They just stood there, until I drove away, and then I saw behind me that they had all made a circle around the cop.”
“Did you see the officer’s name badge?” the officer asked. “Or the number on the car?”
Trina shook her head. “No,” she said. “He had just gotten out of the car to come to my window. And then all the women showed up, out of nowhere. And he told me to come here and get help.”
The officer had sent a separate car down the road where Trina had been pulled over, where she had left the poor policeman behind at the mercy of the strange group of identically dressed, long-haired women. Why would they all dress the same? she wondered. Why would they all look alike? It seemed, in the dark, as though it was the same woman, copied seven or eight times. Suddenly she felt a little less spooked – maybe it was some kind of projector, some kind of elaborate hoax. Maybe the policeman would be okay, and everyone would have a good laugh about it.
A panic-stricken voice crackled over the officer’s radio. “Jordan!” the voice shouted. “Tony’s out here! He’s … he’s dead. He – it looks like he was strangled.”
The officer’s eyes had opened wide. “What do you mean, dead?” she barked into the radio. “Did you see anybody else?”
“No,” the voice replied. “But there are lots of footprints here – mud prints, or … or maybe blood. It’s hard to tell in the dark.”
The officer started issuing urgent instructions into the radio, about back-up, and keeping people clear of the crime-scene, and scouring the area for the women Trina had reported. She glanced piercingly at Trina. “You’ll need to stay with me,” she commanded, obviously considering Trina a suspect in the death of the other officer.
“O-okay,” Trina agreed. She thought about the officer who had pulled her over, about how she had left him there – at his instruction! – to be killed by those women. I’m sorry, she thought, tears in her eyes. She sat quietly for a long while, until the officer was ready to escort her to the police station for questioning.
* * *
Officer Tony Prescott’s dash-cam recording exonerated Trina, but she was required to spend some hours answering endless questions. All around her, the police station was frantic with unusual activity; it was a small town, after all, and crimes like this just didn’t happen. The dash-cam recording had captured the women, a total of nine women all wearing the same floral dress and the same dark hair swept down over their faces. But at the point when the women had surrounded Officer Prescott, the recording had cut out, showing only static for a few moments and clearing up only after the women had vanished.
“Do you recognize the women?” Jordan asked. “From before tonight, I mean.”
“No,” Trina said, shaking her head.
“I do,” a voice said behind her. “That looks like Madeleine Jackson.” The owner of the voice was one of the detectives; he sat down at the table next to Trina and peered at the dash-cam footage.
“Who?” Jordan asked. “That name isn’t familiar to me.”
“She disappeared about a year ago,” the detective explained. “She had been driving over here from Silton to see a friend, and she never showed up.”
“Silton?” Jordan repeated. “She probably would have been on that same road.” She shook her head, frowning. “But if she’s been missing for a year, then how did she end up there tonight? And who are the other women?”
“Maybe it’s some kind of projector,” Trina offered. “Some kind of trick.”
“But why?” Jordan wanted to know. “Why would anyone want to kill Tony?”
More time went by, and Trina felt like she had answered every question at least three times. It was now after sunrise, and even though the detective had given her all the coffee she could ask for, it wasn’t really helping her stay awake at this point. But even though she was increasingly exhausted, she also wanted to be here, following everything the police were finding out about what had happened to Officer Prescott. Surely someone, especially now that the darkness was fading, had found some trace besides muddy footprints of the women. Despite her best efforts, though, she found herself starting to doze off.
“Jordan!” the detective called loudly, startling Trina awake. “I got something!”
“So do I,” Jordan said, coming over to the detective’s desk. “They found another body in the ravine, about half a mile from the road where Tony died. It’s been there a while.”
“A while?” the detective asked. “How long is a ‘while’?”
“It’s almost just bones,” Jordan said. She scowled. “These women who killed Tony,” she said. “They’re dressed like a woman who’s been in the ravine forever. Why? If they knew about the woman in the ravine, why didn’t they report it? Unless they killed her too.” She squinted at the detective. “Do you think it’s your Madeleine Jackson?”
“It could be,” he answered. “I got a call a few weeks ago about a body found under a tree twenty miles up the highway; we thought it might be Madeleine, but it turned out to be a girl from Colorado Springs who was driving through on her way to college – a girl named Tamara Lengle.” He gestured toward his phone. “Tamara had a tuft of hair clutched in her hand; they just let me know they found a match for the hair.” He paused as though he didn’t particularly want to say what he had learned. “It was Tony,” he said finally.
“What was Tony?” Jordan asked. “You – you don’t mean Tony’s hair was on this Tamara girl?”
The detective nodded. “They matched the DNA,” he said. “Tony’s was on file.” He sighed, glanced at Trina who still sat quietly on a nearby bench, and leaned closer to Jordan. “What if he killed Madeleine, too?” he asked in a low voice. “What if that’s why whoever killed him tried to look like Madeleine? Like … revenge?”
Jordan didn’t waste any time being shocked at what she was hearing. “Why not just turn him in?” she asked. “If they thought he had killed these women?”
“Maybe it was Madeleine,” Trina said softly. Her eyes were swimming with tears. “Maybe she … maybe she saved my life tonight.” The woman – all the women – had come out of nowhere. The video had gone to static – wasn’t that one of those things that meant it was a ghost? Wouldn’t that explain why there were so many copies of the same woman?
She looked at Jordan and the detective. They were looking back at her with a mixture of disbelief and nervousness, as though they shared the thoughts she had spoken aloud but didn’t want to acknowledge it. “I think you need to get some sleep,” Jordan said after a moment. She rubbed her forehead. “I think I do too.”
The detective nodded. “We do,” he said. He glanced again at his phone. “But the whole thing just got a lot more complicated. And I’m not sure how to feel about Tony.”
“Yeah,” Jordan agreed. “Me either.” She sighed. “We investigate Tony’s involvement with this Tamara girl,” she decided. “We investigate these remains from the ravine. We investigate Tony’s murder. We do all those things. And you,” she added, giving a small half-smile to Trina. “Can go home and get some rest, and if we have more questions, we’ll get in touch with you.”
Trina blinked away her tears. “Okay,” she said, climbing stiffly to her feet. “But … but I really do think Madeleine saved me tonight.” She drained the cup of coffee the detective had given her, pulled her purse strap over her shoulder, and made her way silently out of the police station.
She thought about the policeman – Tony – and how he had pulled her over on such a deserted road, so late at night. How he had leaned so close into her car window. How frightened he was, even though he had a gun, when he saw the woman in front of the car. He must have recognized her – recognized Madeleine, that he had left dead in a ravine.
Thank you, Madeleine, Trina thought. I’m pretty sure you saved my life last night.
Maddie leaned back and stared out the window at the trees at the edge of the yard. They seemed further away than usual, she thought, squinting at them in curiosity. It must be a trick of the light.
She had been bed-bound for some days now, and she knew her time on this earth was drawing to a close. Selena had brought Tom and Madeline to see their Grandma almost every day, and talked about all the things they would do once Grandma was better; but Maddie knew in her bones that she wasn’t going to get any better. She wasn’t really sick. She was just … done.
Maddie glanced around the room that had been her bedroom for nearly fifty years. It was filled with seventy years of accumulated stuff – stuff she had taken great comfort in, but which now seemed completely meaningless. No wonder George would sigh, she thought, having to carve out his little niches on the dresser and in the closet while Maddie’s things took up all the rest of the space. Maddie chuckled, and spoke softly to her late husband, “Sorry, George. I didn’t understand until now.” She chuckled again, and laid her head back into the pillows. Selena and Don would be here soon; she would be glad to see them one more time, but something told her she wouldn’t really get to say goodbye.
Her thoughts turned to her particular possessions – the ones in the locked keepsake box, the ones her mother had given her and her mother before her, back eight generations. Those possessions were different from the rest. They needed to be hidden away and guarded, so that they couldn’t hurt anyone. Maddie’s family had been the guardians of these items for so very long, and the responsibility of guarding them had been so deeply impressed upon her … yet somehow she had never shared this with her daughter, with her only child. For some reason she didn’t want Selena to have to deal with it, for Selena’s life to be overshadowed with it as her own had been. Maddie had only ever been told that the items were dangerous, after all – she had never even laid eyes on them, actually, and had long since lost the key to the box.
Why have I held onto them, she asked herself, shaking her head. Why did I let Mama convince me, when I always thought she was a little crazy to believe it? But she had made a promise to her Mama to guard the box, and she had kept that promise. She didn’t even know what sort of danger the items posed, because Mama had always been so vague about it, but the box and the key and the promise had all been laid at Maddie’s feet with an air of urgent – almost paranoid – importance.
She had kept that promise, but she hadn’t wanted Selena to carry it forward, and it was certainly too late to talk to her about it now. Maddie sighed, long and cleansing, and felt her body shudder into a state that was at once disconcerting and fundamentally familiar. She understood now why people referred to death as “going home”, because whatever was happening to her body, the rest of her was heading for somewhere that she knew she had been to before.
She reached out to her bedside table, and her hand as it wavered in front of her seemed transparent. She didn’t have much time at all, she realized. She took up her crossword pencil in stiff, tingling fingers, and scratched it across the get-well-soon card her friend Marian had sent her.
“Just get rid of all this stuff, Selena,” she wrote – or at least she hoped she had written that, because her eyes were no longer seeing things quite as they had seen them a moment ago – “None of it matters. I love you and Don and the kids. I’m proud of you. Mom.”
The last arc of the final “m” trailed terribly to the right, and Maddie hoped Selena would be able to read it. She couldn’t hold the pencil anymore; it clattered onto the bedside table. She couldn’t really see anymore either, except a patch of light that must be the window. Her body felt … it felt … well, she couldn’t really feel it.
Her breath left her then, and she found that she couldn’t take another. It didn’t frighten her, though, because apparently she didn’t need to breathe. She floated up from the bed, and her vision suddenly cleared – the window, the mountains of stuff, the note she had just written, her own self on the bed. What a strange thing to experience, she thought, gazing down at her white, motionless body.
She looked into the closet, into the keepsake box – she didn’t need a key now, or hands, or anything. The “dangerous” items were as clear to her as the trees at the edge of the yard. She laughed, or imagined that she did, as she examined the items.
They weren’t evil, she realized. They were … competing with the living world, like angry neighbours quarreling over a shared well. What a relief. If Selena did find them, they probably wouldn’t be so bad to deal with as Maddie’s Mama had always feared. But the items weren’t welcome in the living world either, and Maddie knew now that she had been right not to tell Selena this strange part of her family history. It would be better for the items to be dispersed, so that their power could dissipate and eventually be forgotten.
I hope Selena listens to that note, Maddie thought. She marveled at how blissful love felt now that she was free of all other sensations.
Deciding that she wanted to fly, Maddie turned to the window and passed through it, on to whatever awaited her beyond the trees.
… Last House on the Left (2009): the parents.
After an escaped felon and his “family” kidnap and viciously attack seventeen-year-old Mari, they wander, coincidentally enough, to Mari’s house. Mari’s parents graciously allow the bad guys into their house and out of the storm, unaware of the horrific things these “people” have done to their daughter. Then they learn the truth.
They ask each other where the keys to the boat are (Mari had taken the car); they look at each other without speaking because they don’t want the bad guys to overhear them. But they never exchange “meaningful glances”, or discuss the ethical conflict involved in exacting revenge. It’s not some weighty consideration that one or the other of them has trouble with; it’s not something that one of them has to wonder what the other one is thinking. Without a moment’s pause, they shift into a dark space where only swift and total retribution is allowed.
And then they kill all the bad guys … with kitchen tools and fire extinguishers.
And a microwave oven.
Am I saying it’s good for people to turn effortlessly into killers? Well, not when you say it like that, no. But it’s good for them to know their priorities, and to be able to act to protect those in their care. It’s good to have a relationship where the trust is absolute. And it’s good to be brave in the face of evil, to do what needs to be done.
It’s not that the average parent is going to be faced with such a dire and unlikely situation. It’s that it’s a nice alternative to the world we seem to live in, where being a good parent includes television/Netflix/video games/telephone/texting/twitter/facebook/girls’ night/guys’ night/getting nails done/etc., etc., etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things – on the surface. But when those things become the things we have to get done, and when we feel like every moment is a moment “for ourselves”, then suddenly we just simply aren’t good parents anymore – we’re babysitters, talking to our boyfriends and raiding the fridge and saying, “Go away, kid, ya bother me!”
It would be wonderful to live in a world where all parents understood their responsibility and were willing to make tough choices – like axing bad guys – for their children’s safety. But sometimes I wonder if “modern” parenting is even aware of what should be obvious: the kids aren’t there for us; we’re there for them. And if you’re bad guys who try to hurt our children, well … it sucks to be you.