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We Found No Peace on the Island

by Yvonne Matthews 18 days ago in Horror

A Patchwork Sin

There was a bargain struck between the two to keep what happened on the island a secret. Solidarity was key. Now and again there would be the opportunity, and a sort of yearning to tell would jerk forward into their chests, attaching to it the hope that things might finally end if only someone knew. But terror—terror was always quick to follow. And terror is a deceptive beast, which convinces you that it is much larger and much more dangerous than it really is, but a child cannot be expected to know that.

People often remarked that they were an odd pairing, the sisters. One exuded gold, in appearance and in demeanor. She was a malcontent star, glistening in the heavens and desperate to reach the earth; and clinging to anyone who might deliver her to it. The other was soft charcoal pressed against the white of a piece of parchment—burned and bruised and messy. They were the other’s antithesis. And still. No one could divide them.

Marie balanced on her heels and looked over the carefully manicured lawn displayed before her, and wondered, briefly, about the condition of her husband, pressed into the crowd of a smoke-swallowed bar. She wondered if he had ever really loved her. She had loved him, of course, the way she had loved every man before him: brightly and blindly, as if hearts were designed to be so totally disposable. As if that were love at all.

She stood on the walk and she wondered.

And then forward she moved. One step, then two. As she walked the short distance over the grass to the offices, the ground sucked in her heels, swallowing them a little each time, as if even the earth herself was begging her to stop, (to think!) but she would not appease her.

Soon she had reached the building, and then the room, and she thought to herself suddenly, “Oh, I haven’t got a key!” and for a moment she almost went home, but then her husband’s aide saw her. Jenny. Fitting.

“Mrs. Symanski! How are you?” She smiled at her, and Marie almost felt pity for her. My God, she thought, She still has braces! It hadn’t struck her before how young Jenny was. Wasn’t she a victim, too?

No. No, it wouldn’t do to think that way, not now, when she was so close to finishing things. She smiled back. “Hi, Jenny, right?” of course she knew, but she sort of wanted it to sting, like she wasn’t worth remembering.

“That’s right!” Jenny laughed a little. “Jacob—Mr. Symanski isn’t here right now, do you need me to let you in?”

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” Tart.

Jenny turned the key in the lock and let Marie into the office. “It’s so funny, Mr. S didn’t say anything about you coming in today. Is this a surprise?” she leaned in. “I promise not to spill the beans.”

Marie smiled, really smiled. She settled against her husband’s desk. “Yes. Well, sort of. Do you do that a lot? Keep secrets for him?” I bet you do.

Jenny shifted her weight uncomfortably. “Um,” she chuckled. “That’s… I guess. Like, grades and tests and stuff.” She shifted again, as if she were standing on too-warm pavement. Maybe it had been her hips that had enticed him. Or maybe those big brown eyes. Or maybe it was just because she was different from Marie.

“You’re very pretty, you know.” Marie felt calm, in control for the first time in years. Jenny laughed again. “Don’t laugh.” She snapped, and Jenny stopped.

“Sorry.”

Marie looked down and dragged her finger along the edge of the desk. Had it been here? In this very room? Was he that brave, that daring? He never had been with her. She turned back to Jenny, smiling again.

You are, you know. Pretty, I mean. Sort of exotic. Oh, we’re not supposed to say that anymore, are we? Well, you are. Not like me.”

“Don’t say that, you’re totally hot, Mrs. Symanski.” Jenny assured her.

“I know.” Marie said, and that took Jenny by surprise. “I just mean I’m not exotic. I’m European. French, actually.”

Jenny grinned, nodding. “That makes sense. I can totally see it. Do you speak French?”

“Oui.” She said, and Jenny giggled.

“That’s so cool!”

“Merci beaucoup.” She spun the globe on the desk. God, Jacob was so pretentious. She stopped it with her pointer finger. It landed on Uganda. Without looking up she asked, “Does Jacob ever tell you?”

Jenny choked. She cleared her throat. “Tell me what?”

“That you’re beautiful.” Keep up, idiot.

Jenny looked down, and that was answer enough. She moved toward the door. “That would be inappropriate, Mrs. S. I have to go.”

“I’m sorry,” Marie said, and she was shocked to find that she meant it. She really was sorry for her. For what her husband had done to her, and for what was to come. “Can I ask you one last thing, Jennifer?”

Jenny paused, her hand on the doorknob. She sighed. “Yeah, what’s up?”

Marie looked at her, really looked at her, like she was memorizing her. She looked like a child. Innocent. Oh, but you’re not, are you? Marie thought she saw it just there, in the moment before Jenny smiled. A little telltale sign that she wasn’t quite what she let on to be.

“What is it, Mrs. S?”

“Just… Just when do you think he’ll be back?”

“Probably about forty minutes.” Jenny said. She opened the door and positioned herself so that she was half in, half out. “Is that all?”

Marie nodded. “Adieu.”

When the office was empty she pushed off the desk and strolled. She ran her fingers over the tomes on the shelves, and looked out over the campus. All those students, milling about. The blinds would have to close. Couldn’t risk anyone discovering her plot before it was time. Jacob had to be the one to find everything, just as she arranged it.

She pulled a letter from her coat and held it between her fingers. She’d written it in French; Jacob hated when she spoke French. She scoffed. Most American men would have loved it, but not him! He was so, so intent on being different. Setting himself apart from his peers was so important, but look at him now!

Look at us all! She thought.

There would be no children left behind, no weeping cherubs to look after. Jacob couldn’t have them, didn’t want them. No pets, either—he couldn’t stand the smell. No friends to wonder why she hadn’t said something; all her friends were really his. There was no one but her sister, far away in Toulouse.

She couldn’t think of her now. She was so close! It was almost time.

She danced as she set it up, to her private symphony. She pulled on the cord until it was taught. She hoped the weight of everything wouldn’t pull down the ceiling. How humiliating that would be! Oh well, it would have to do.

She took off her heels and climbed up on the desk. She kicked off the globe. She took a deep breath.

Now or never.

Jump!

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

Isaac was not a smoker, especially when his mother asked, but on the few occasions he did smoke, he preferred to do it in the bathtub.

Today Isaac filled the tub with warm water (just hot enough to turn him pink), turned on the radio, and lit a cigarette. The window was cracked just a little for the smoke, and he could hear the city beneath him.

Damn, he was going to miss this.

He took a drag of the cigarette and held it in his lungs for a few moments before slowly letting it all out. He repeated this until the smoke and steam mixed together and collected up by the ceiling panels. This was the way he liked things.

He was too particular. That’s what she’d said, wasn’t it? Too difficult to live with. He flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette and over the edge of the tub. Ah, well. Maybe she was right. But what was the harm, really? Who was he hurting by having things just so?

No one but me, he thought. He took another drag.

God, he needed this to work out.

After maybe an hour of this, he drained the tub and wrapped a towel around his waist. He surveyed the landscape of his apartment. It was a city skyline, with boxes stacked and pushed against the walls.

Eighteen boxes, fifteen of which were to be donated, leaving three boxes for him to bring to the island. His whole life packed into three boxes.

Not your whole life…

He shook loose the thought from his mind and went about getting ready for bed. He had a lot to do still, and the ferry left at eight the next morning.

Saint Jude’s sat on the island with a quiet disregard for the lives it housed. It was an imposing structure, comprised of four buildings: the men and women’s patient houses, the common house, and the guard quarters. The brickwork was ill-maintained, as was the foliage; bare branches reached outward, wild and desperate. It was a beast forgotten.

Isaac was greeted in the lobby of the common house by two guards, introduced as Grimes and Runt. He had met Grimes once before, a large man, ex-marine, left with no other option when he returned to the states but to enter into security work. Runt was his inverse—a small woman, swallowed by her uniform. She was mousy brown all over, ailments from her childhood having drained her of color. She smiled up at Isaac nervously, perhaps blushing as best she could. Together the three of them carried his boxes to his new room, chatting along the way.

“Only six inmates these days,” Grimes said. He set down his box on the metal chest at the foot of the bed. “Most of ‘em women, so this is a pretty easy job. Mostly just keep ‘em locked up, so they can’t hurt each other.”

“They’re not inmates, James. They’re patients.” Runt said in a quiet, almost undetectable voice. She glanced up at Isaac quickly, then returned her eyes to the floor. “I can take you around to meet them, if you want. They’re all in the common house.”

Runt said nothing else as they made their way across the walk to the common house. When they entered, Isaac was in disbelief at the state of disrepair. The cells lining the walls were once surely green, but now suffered greatly from rust. There was a distinctly mildewed smell, and the central area was abandoned, the patients instead sequestered into individual cells.

Runt began to lead him along the second story of cells, giving brief descriptions of each member. Before they reached the end, there was a sudden shouting from beneath, and Isaac rushed back down the stairway to attend to it, so he didn’t meet her until the next day.

Isaac watched through the window of the observation office as the patients moved about their cells. Some read, some scratched pictures into the peeling paint on the walls, and two girls held hands across the wall separating their cells.

“What’s all that?” Isaac asked Runt. She squinted through her thick glasses at them.

“Oh, that’s Pixie and Maggie. We just let them do that, doesn’t hurt anyone and it keeps Pixie from getting too wild.”

“I see. It looks as if they’re passing something back and forth.”

“Probably just an orange from breakfast. They sneak food into their cells sometimes. Not really supposed to but I don’t care if you don’t care.”

“No, rules are in place for a reason. No food in the common house. I’ll go handle it.”

He stood and Runt began to move, then stopped, as if she wasn’t sure if she should follow. Isaac gestured for her to stay, and she settled back into her seat.

He climbed the stairs to the second level, careful not to get the rust from the railing on his uniform. When he reached the cells he opened his mouth to speak, but he stopped short upon seeing her.

There was no warning, as there often wasn’t in these sorts of situations. She was simply before him, in all her beauty. She didn’t speak, only watched him from behind the bars of her cage. Her eyes were large, and they pierced his heart. She was, plainly, the most extraordinary woman he had ever beheld.

“Who are you?” he asked in barely a whisper. She stood still, the only movement her shoulders as they rose and fell with her breath.

“Her name is Maggie,” Pixie spoke up from the next cell over.

“Of course, you’re Maggie.” He put a hand through the bars. “I’m Isaac.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Sir.” Pixie said, but he couldn’t hear her. His every sense was hanging onto Maggie.

She moved forward, slowly, smoothly, and before he could react to it, she clamped her hands down onto his, and the world spun out of focus. He was enveloped by a cacophony of sound and sight and touch. He could hear birds sing and scream, velvet caressed every inch of his skin, then sandpaper. Lights flashed in front of his eyes in rhythmless patterns.

Maggie released his hand and the world went still again, though it was never quite the same.

“What—what was that?” He asked, struggling to catch his breath.

“First time’s always the hardest.” Pixie said. “I told you not to do it. Now you’ll never be able to leave.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.” She said in a sing-song voice. “Too late for you now.”

Isaac shook his head. “I… I’m sorry.” He shook his head again. The chimes for the end of the day played over the speakers. “It’s time for shift change.” He muttered to himself.

And so it had begun.

He lay in bed days after, remembering beyond the moment, to the touch of her hand in his. And he hungered for it. To touch her once more, to feel that electric charge run through his body. She was in his dreams each night, in his every thought. With each passing day, she consumed him.

It became so that he could not rest at night, and one stormy evening he donned his uniform and walked across to the women’s patient house. Grimes laughed as he approached. “Had a midnight craving, huh?” he winked. “No problem, we all partake. Just try to keep it down—don’t want to wake up any witnesses.”

Isaac felt a sickness stir in the pit of his stomach. “I’m going to assume you didn’t just tell your boss you’re raping the patients.”

Grimes rolled his eyes. “Can’t rape the willing, boss. These girls get just as riled up as we do, only they can’t go out and do anything about it. I’m just providing a service here.”

Isaac sighed, and made a mental note not to schedule Grimes to work the women’s house. “I can’t sleep, thought I’d come stand watch if you want to head back.”

“Sure thing. Thanks, man.” Isaac nodded, and waited until he heard the doors out open and close. He hurried through the long corridor until he came upon her, sleeping on her cot, her soulful eyes closed to him. He couldn’t bear to wake her, so he leaned himself against the bars of her cell and watched her dream. He reached through to the place where her curls fell over the side of the cot and touched them, twirling them around his finger.

“I love you,” he whispered. Only the night heard him, but he thought she already knew.

He fell asleep next to her, his hand still through the bars.

When he woke it was sunrise, and Maggie had risen. She put a finger to her lips, and unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt sleeve, rolling it up. He was frozen by her touch. She ran a finger along the inside of his forearm, tracing the veins. Soon she reached his hand, and she grasped it in her own, palm to palm.

His world turned again, and he found himself sitting in a claw foot tub, lighting her cigarette and passing it to her. She took a drag, then passed it back, and together they filled the room with smoke and vapors, just the way he liked it. He held her in his arms, felt her against him in the water. She craned her neck to face him, and he could almost hear her.

Is this what you want?

He nodded fervently. “Desperately.”

He moved forward to kiss her, but when his lips should have made purchase with hers, he was returned to the world before. Maggie had released him, and moved to the back of the cell.

“How?” He asked. “How do I make it so?”

She smiled a small smile.

“Let her out.” Pixie answered. Isaac jumped when she spoke. “Let her out.” she repeated. “And while you’re at it, let me out, too.” She batted her eyelashes playfully. “Pretty please?”

Isaac’s eyes darted back and forth between the two. “You speak for her, huh?”

Pixie nodded.

“How’d she get here?”

“Her brother-in-law killed her sister. Maggie went a little… well, mad enough to land her in here with us. Hey, can we share a cell in the common house today?”

Isaac broke his gaze from Maggie. “Sorry, rules are rules. Not today.”

“It’s a stupid rule, I think.”

“Rules are never stupid. Only stupid people who can’t follow them.”

On his day off he rode the ferry to the mainland. He planned to meet with a lawyer, but he found himself standing in front of dress shops instead. He watched the women in it, and thought only of Maggie. How she might look in one dress or another. He thought of buying her one, but where would she wear it? Of course, on the day she’s released. She’ll need something to wear then, and why shouldn’t she be the prettiest girl on the ferry? He made his purchase and hurried out.

He met with the lawyer almost late. He pursued a particular line of inquiry, namely: How to release Maggie.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you, son, your options aren’t great.” The lawyer looked over the patient file Isaac had provided. “What this is called is Adult Guardianship. Essentially the court determined that your girlfriend is not in the right state of mind to look after herself, and gave guardianship to her brother-in-law, a mister…. Symanski. Have you had any contact with him?”

“No, he isn’t involved.”

“Well, I hate to see it, but it’s more common than you think. People get tired of taking care of their wards and dump them off in a facility.”

“What can I do?”

“You can challenge him for guardianship, but I doubt you’d win—not being family and all. I suppose you could get a court psychiatrist in there to look at her. If they can determine that she’s of a sound mind now you can get the guardianship removed. Then there’s always the nuclear option.”

“Which is?”

“Get the whole place shut down. Chances are you can get her case reviewed then and they’ll just let her go.”

“I see,” Isaac replied. “Thank you for your time.”

“I missed you,” he whispered through the bars that evening. He reached through to touch her.

“Let us out.” Pixie whispered. “Just us, and I won’t tell anyone if you spend the night with her.”

Isaac leaned his head against the bars. “Is that what you want?”

Maggie nodded. She took his hand and pressed it to her lips. She left little kisses scattered over his fingers.

“Then you’ll have it.”

Once Grimes was handled he went back to his room to get his keys. As he was gathering a blanket he saw her dress, folded neatly on the desk. He hesitated for a moment, then put it with the blanket. She could wear it later.

When he returned Pixie was standing at her door. “Don’t forget me.” She said.

He picked out the right key and unlocked it. “Be back before sunrise.” She nodded.

Then it was just Maggie and Isaac. “I brought a bigger blanket.” He said. He took the key and pushed it into the lock, and when it clicked she gasped. The door slid open. He stepped in.

She reached her arms out to him, and he set his things down and rushed into them. He kissed her throat, which had never spoken, and she let out little breaths. She tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled his head back. He moaned. She hitched up her skirt and he pushed into her, threading his fingers through hers. His world spun out of focus and he saw it all, her life before, her sister, the rage and passionate hatred after her death, the numbing isolation of this place before Pixie. He saw himself through her eyes, the love he poured out to her. Then he saw more. He saw their wedding, and the honeymoon, and children and all the wonderful things that he’d hoped for, that he prayed to have with her. He broke his hand away, caressing her face.

“I want to be here,” he panted. She nodded and kissed him.

When it was all done he pulled the blanket over them on the cot. He knew he couldn’t stay, that he didn’t have that time, but he thought if he could just stay for a moment, that would be enough…

When he woke the sun was rising, and Maggie was gone. He leapt up and sprinted out. He found her by the big window at the end of the second floor hall, standing hand in hand with Pixie.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Pixie asked without turning. “It used to be stained glass. I can still see it.” She touched the glass.

“It’s time.” Isaac said.

“Yes, it is.” Pixie said.

They began the walk back. Isaac put his arm around Maggie’s shoulders. “I’ve got a way to get you out of here, you know.”

For a moment he didn’t realize what the sound was, and when he did, his heart fell to the pit of his stomach. The sound of glass breaking rang throughout the hall and he turned and ran to the gaping hole that was once the window. He looked down. Pixies body was sticking halfway up through the window she’d fallen into. Through her torso stuck a large shard of glass.

Runt started screaming, because it was her room Pixie had fallen into.

A lot of people started asking a lot of questions after that. Isaac was fired, but he spent every day with Maggie until Saint Jude’s was officially closed. The lawyer was right. The cases were reopened, the patients reevaluated. Maggie was released.

Isaac stood with her at the entrance as she took one final look at the place which had been her home for twelve years. Isaac went to hold her hand, but she pulled it away. He looked at her confused.

She pulled from her bag a ticket. To Toulouse. Only one.

It was a slow rush of panic and pain. He fell to his knees.

“I love you, Maggie. I can’t… please, don’t leave me behind. I can’t live without you.” He grasped her hands, but nothing came. “Please… please.”

She smiled at him, and wiped the tears from his face. Oh, sweet man, he heard through the whisper of her fingertips. He looked up at her. She set her hands on either side of his face, and he felt the world begin to spin. “I love you.” He said.

Drip…

Drip…

Drip…

Isaac was not a smoker, especially when his mother asked, but on the few occasions he did smoke, he preferred to do it in the bathtub.

Today Isaac filled the tub with warm water (just hot enough to turn him pink), turned on the radio, and lit a cigarette. The window was cracked just a little for the smoke, and he could hear the city beneath him.

Damn, he was going to miss this.

Horror

Yvonne Matthews

Author's Picks: Of Ghosts and Monsters, The Mark, The Spot

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