The house was big. It was an old Saint Paul house built in 1913. Although it wasn’t situated in one of the fancy Saint Paul neighborhoods where most of the stately mansions existed, it was a large house, and good looking for its old age. The house was near the river and downtown, in a neighborhood which was prosperous back in the 1950’s when most of the houses were built. The ceilings were 10 feet high and the floors were wood, the main floor windows had so many drafts them in the winter they might as well be left open. There was not a single overhead light except in the two bathrooms; all the other rooms were lit by lamps. There was a ceiling fan in the kitchen, and one in the living room, but they were both hanging a few inches away from the ceiling, having not been properly installed. For all the updates that the previous owner had tried to make on the house it was falling into disrepair. Penny and Archer Scott did what they could to maintain it when they bought the house eight years ago but with twin daughters, two cats and two full time jobs, the house always seemed to be last on the list.
The house was also cold. It had been unsuccessfully turned into a duplex by the previous owner and the result was an extra bathroom in one of the bedrooms and a thermostat for each floor. This came in handy sometimes if they wanted to save energy upstairs but heat the downstairs. Even with that added benefit, neither heating apparatus worked very well so even when they turned the heat to what would be comfortable in a normal house, their house was still freezing. They solved this problem in many ways. They had a fire in their fireplace almost every night in every season but summer, they dressed warmly and used flannel sheets, and they each had a sock filled with rice that they could throw in the microwave and bring to bed with them. It was exhausting sometimes, being cold, but with a little effort they got used to it and the temperature seemed almost comfortable.
The height of the ceilings was great, the wooden floors throughout the house were easy to maintain and the fireplace was an added benefit. The one strange thing about the house were the closets. Two of the three upstairs bedrooms had two closets. The master bedroom had an enormous walk-in closet, which was strange only for its size and how out of sync it was with the style of the rest of the house. The girls’ room had two closets, one with mirrored doors on the front and one with an old wooden door with a badly painted doorknob. For some reason the girls preferred to keep their clothes in the closet with the mirrored door, so they could compare outfits when they were deciding what to wear for the day, and because it was bigger. The other closet, the one with the painted doorknob, held mostly clothes they had outgrown. The office also had two closets, one with an old wooden door like the girls’ room and one with a short door and a latch, which was almost a storage area and not a closet at all. When they bought the house Archer had joked with Penny that the little closet was the perfect size to hide a Jewish family, and, although she had laughed Penny couldn’t get that image out of her head. She always thought of it as ‘the Jewish closet’, political correctness be damned. There was a bookcase in front of this closet because it gave Penny the creeps, especially when she was alone in the house.
All in all it was a good house, especially for the price they paid eight years ago. It was definitely not in the prime of its life any more but it had some good years left. It fit them well for what they needed at the moment, and despite its many failings, Penny and Archer loved their big old house.
Penny felt uneasy all day. She got her family out the door on time, kissed her husband as he drove away to his job in software development and dropped her twin daughters off at Linwood Monroe for another exciting day of 3rd grade. Gold and amber leaves crackled under foot as she walked to her car and the air smelled of wood smoke and cinnamon. It was a perfect October day in Saint Paul. When she got home she fed their two cats Strawberry Shortcake, the skinny black cat who looked nothing like strawberries or shortcake, and Jem, the chubby orange one who the girls insisted really could be a rock star someday, and set herself up in her office with a cup of herbal tea, ready to work. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was forgetting something, or had lost something, or a terrible thing was about to happen.
She tried to put it out of her mind so she could get to work on her latest self-help book, Visualize Yourself Healthy. Penny often wondered about the kind of women who bought her books, she wasn’t so thick that she thought men bought her books, although there could be the oddball or two out there who wanted to learn how to Eat for Mental Openness or possibly even how to Enlighten Your Senses With The Seasons. The funny thing was that she wrote books she would never, ever read herself. She knew she was writing crap for people who would jump on any bandwagon if it promised them a good result fast and she felt slightly vampiric taking advantage of that. But a girl’s got to eat, and keep her family in winter clothing, and help pay for her daughter’s variety of extra curriculars, and help fund her husband’s Ham radio obsession. And it wasn’t like she was writing books just filled with crap, she spent a lot of time researching and editing and planning out the concepts of her books. They were good. They weren’t great but they could make your life slightly better. When they were boiled down it was all just common sense shielded with some fancy mumbo jumbo and enough homeopathy to make it sound believable.
Penny wrote for two hours and then took a break. The feeling was getting more intense. She looked around her house trying to locate something that was out of place, a garbage bag that had been forgotten and was getting stinky, a wet rag that had been left out and was slowly starting to grow a colony of mold, a sharp object on the floor waiting for a nice, soft foot to puncture, a mouse carcass left by Jem or Strawberry. From empty room to empty room, she searched, and found nothing. Well, she did find a pile of dirty clothes underneath Mirin’s bed and the crust of a sandwich under Faye’s bed but other than that there was nothing out of the ordinary in her house, nothing malevolent, nothing to cause the feeling of dread that had been growing in the pit of her stomach. Penny stood in the middle of her living room and looked around, taking deep, slow breaths to calm herself down and try to bring her a feeling of calm. She went back into her office to try and get more work done and to forget her foolish megrims.
Archer picked up the girls at the end of the day, as he always did and Penny stopped writing around 4 pm to get dinner ready. She was still distracted, by the lingering sense of unease and dread that pervaded her body and her thoughts so much that instead of preparing mustard chicken she spent almost an hour making peanut butter sandwiches. When Archer, Mirin and Faye arrived home in a cacophony of giggles and conversation Penny was just realizing that she made 15 sandwiches instead of 4 mustard chicken breasts. She was standing in the kitchen with her hands on her hips, staring at the counter when Archer and the girls walked up.
"Hi honey, how was your day?" Archer asked. He came up behind Penny and put his hands around her waist. She didn't immediately respond so he turned her around to look at him. "Penny?"
"How was your day, Pen? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I've just had one of those feelings all day."
Archer knew that Penny sometimes had feelings of dread and the feelings often preceded some horrible happening. The day her mother died Penny had been beside herself for almost a week and was so afraid that something was going to happen to the girls that she wouldn’t let them play outside. She wouldn’t even let them go to school on the day her mother died, although she didn’t yet know that her mother was dead. The whole day had felt like a crescendo of evil and grief and Penny had no idea what was causing it or why she was feeling it. Archer didn’t understand what she felt but he knew that her feelings weren’t usually wrong. If she had them, it was for a reason.
“I’m sorry. Is it strong?”
“Stronger as the day went on. I thought seeing you and the girls would make it better but so far not really. And I was so preoccupied with my own crazies that instead of making mustard chicken like I’d planned I made peanut butter sandwiches. 15 peanut butter sandwiches.”
Archer laughed and hugged her. “It’ll be okay, whatever is going to happen, we’ll work through it together. We always have.”
Penny thought about her mother. She always wished she had done more to find out what the cause of her dread was, contacted everyone she knew and tried to stop something from happening. That was just the problem though, she couldn’t call every single person she knew to ask them if they were okay. They would think she was crazy. She thought she was crazy. But if she had tried even a little bit, had taken just one extra step, one extra moment of care, maybe she could have saved her mother. This guilt ate at Penny every day and she lived every day with the underlying fear that it would happen again and once again she wouldn’t be able to stop it. She hadn’t told Archer about her guilt but she assumed that he knew anyways.
“I know we will. It just worries me.”
“More than you’re letting on.”
“It’s a good thing we like sandwiches.”
Mirin laughed. “Yes, it’s a very good thing.”
They ate dinner with the girls, Archer whipped up some sautéed green beans to go along with their abundance of sandwiches and they had a great meal. After helping the girls with their homework Penny and Archer took the girls upstairs to get ready for bed. Penny’s feeling of dread increased as the evening went on. She tried to be present as they got the girls ready, teeth brushed, hair combed, but she was so distracted by the impending doom blooming in her heart that she tried to re-dress Faye in her dirty clothes. Faye and Mirin got into their pajamas, their current favorite was the New Kids on the Block nightgowns, and jumped into bed. Penny kissed them both goodnight and hugged them extra tight. She went downstairs to clean up while Archer read them a story. Twice during the evening Penny ran upstairs to check on the girls, certain that something horrible had happened. Both times she found them asleep in their beds, tiny chests rising up and down, small heads of thick brown hair resting comfortably on matching purple pillowcases. Both times she came back downstairs to Archer’s raised eyebrows, although he was too kind of a man to let the smirk onto his lips that Penny could feel in his eyes. Around 11 pm she decided to give up and go to bed. Try as she might to check on the girls she knew that at some point she had to let them be. Short of sleeping on the floor in the room, and that was just insanity, there was really nothing she could do. She was exhausted from the flood of emotions that had overtaken her throughout the day and needed to recharge and prepare herself for another day of overly intense dread. Slipping between the sheets and pulling a quilt over herself, Penny closed her eyes and tried to focus on calm, happy thoughts. She fell asleep trying.
Archer had stumbled up to bed around 1 am after he fell asleep while reading The Stand, Stephen King’s latest book. It was a great read but absolutely gigantic. He was trying to get through it as fast as he could because he knew that Penny was dying to read it too. Now the house was dark; everyone was asleep. Everyone but Jem and Strawberry Shortcake, who stalked the hall and the main floor like small, ineffective guard dogs. The house was quiet. In Faye and Mirin’s room, the scene of a million tea parties and stuffed animal hospital rooms and fashion designer contests, their closet, the one with the wooden door and the badly painted doorknob, was opening by itself. It opened so quietly that not even the cats, with their preternatural hearing, were alerted by a sound. It swung all the way open, and then stopped. The house was silent again, as if whatever had opened the door was waiting to ensure that their presence had gone unnoticed. After a few minutes of the house having been returned to its unaltered state of middle of the night quiet, something inside the closet moved. It brushed against the old clothes the twins had outgrown and stuffed animals long forgotten with barely a whisper. It knew how to move quietly. Faye murmured in her sleep and turned over, but she didn’t open her eyes. The thing that opened the closet door stepped through into the twins’ bedroom. It surveyed the scene of the two sleeping girls and moved towards the one that was closest, although they both smelled appealing. The appearance of the creature that walked through the closet door was in flux, it wasn’t wholly one thing or another. It was also without gender, though it thought of itself as a male. A male, shape changing monster who had come through this door, drawn by the intense love and vibrant light given off by the two sleeping beauties before him, and he intended to gorge himself on them. The trick in it was finishing off one girl before the other woke up. He believed he was equal to the challenge.
The creature walked to the foot of the closer girl’s bed and lowered his head, as if in prayer. With great mental acuity the creature leaned over and inhaled deeply. The girl twitched but made no noise, as her life, that which sustained her and made her a fascinatingly unique person, was slowly drained out of her. It had been so long since the creature had fed that the first hit of the girls life force made him momentarily light headed. He had forgotten how wonderful the sensation was, and the taste! This little darling tasted like snow, sunshine, and peanut butter. Now that he was back in the game he couldn’t remember why he had ever stopped in the first place. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed and urgency, the creature drained the life out of the little girl until she was just at the brink of life and death. He slowed down, not wanting to waste the beautiful moment of her last breath. It was his favorite part.
The little girl in the next bed had awoken and was looking at him in horror, her mouth frozen open and a sound of terror coming from her. In his ecstasy over the taste of his latest conquest he had forgotten about the identical girl sleeping beside her. He was quite rusty if he had let an oversight like this interrupt him before the pivotal moment that he had been waiting for. No matter. He would finish eating her while her sister watched. Leaning forward even more, in a position that was more bird in flight than that a creature who walked on the ground, the creature put one last enormous effort into draining the life from the little girl. She went from pale peach and unresponsive to gray and limp in half a second. That half second was the most blissful moment the creature had experienced in over a decade. Already high on the little girl’s life, the last wisp of her essence sent him over the edge and he was riding a wave of euphoria and satiation. Every thought and wish she ever had, filled his mind and he was blown away by the complexity and kindness in such a young human. He became aware enough of himself to realize that the other girl was still screaming. All of this had taken no more than two seconds.
The creature stepped towards the second little girl, intending to finish her off regrettably quickly but before he could move any closer towards her he heard running feet thump down a hallway. He would come back for this one, he couldn’t risk her telling tales, but more importantly, he was curious to see if she tasted the same as her sister and whether she had the same kind heart. The creature was about to leave this house in emotional ruin, when he turned back to look at the girl. One look. It was enough to stop her screaming and for a moment the world fell silent. The living sister stared into his eyes, hers big and blue, his hidden, but not well enough for her to avoid detecting their stormy greyness. Then the creature turned, walked through the door and pulled the doorknob behind him, which was painted on the inside of the closet as well as out, and was gone.
The little girl, Mirin, hesitated only for a moment and then scrambled out of bed. She jumped up and pulled the closet door open. There was nothing there. She was standing there holding the closet door open when her parents burst into the room.
"Mirin, what's wrong?" Archer demanded. "What happened?"
Penny wasted no time asking Mirin, instead, she ran straight to Faye who hadn’t been awakened by her sister’s screams. Upon touching Faye's arm to shake her awake Penny knew that something was wrong. Faye's skin was cool and unlike her sisters creamy complexion, Faye's skin had a greyish tinge. Penny's heart sank and her heart stringently denied what her head already knew. She lifted Faye's head in her arms, tilted it back and felt for breath. When she found none she pulled down the blankets and stood up to administer CPR. Penny did this all very quickly, by the time she was giving Faye CPR Archer had turned from Mirin and was running to Faye's side.
"Mirin, what happened?" Archer asked without turning around to look at Mirin, who was still standing in the closet doorway.
She stood there silently, staring into the darkness of the closet. After a moment she finally tuned around to watch her parents hovering over Faye.
Archer repeated himself. "Mirin, what happened?"
She stared at him for a minute, still processing what had happened, and was still happening.
"I don't know. I woke up and there was someone standing over Faye's bed."
"There was someone in your room? Where did he go?" Archer yelled and ran to the window, as if expecting to see a man running down the street with obvious evidence of child killing on his person.
"He went back into the closet." Mirin said quietly, looking back at the closet door which was still hanging open ominously.
Penny was still performing CPR on Faye when Archer went over to them. “Penny, I’m going to call 911. You stay with Faye.”
Penny nodded but couldn’t answer as she was still performing the repetitions on Faye.
Mirin steeled herself and stepped inside the closet, expecting a sudden blow or to be grabbed and dragged off who knows where. There was nothing. The only evidence that something had been there, and it wasn’t really evidence at all, was the slight scent of rot, along with what smelled like peanut butter. Mirin looked down and saw the outline of what could have been a foot, on the wooden floor of the closet. She touched it and it dissolved. Whatever it had been made of was no more substantial that breath. Her mother continued to perform CPR.
Archer ran back into the room, slightly out of breath. “They’re on their way. I told them I didn’t know what happened but that she wasn’t breathing. Mirin, honey, come out of the closet. Are you ok?” Archer gestured for Mirin to come sit next to him on her bed. She sat next to her father and he pulled her up into his lap. Neither of them noticed that Penny had stopped CPR and was looking into Faye’s face, tears of grief and guilt running down her face. Whatever had killed her, Penny knew it was too late. There was nothing she could do.
“Mirin,” Archer said, “What happened?”
“I was sleeping, and I dreamed that there was someone in our room. I dreamed that he came out of the closet to kill us. He was scary. Like, really, really scary, and then I woke up and he was standing there.” Mirin pointed to the foot of Faye’s bed where she could see the same faint outline of a foot. As she watched, it disappeared, just like the footprint in the closet had. “I screamed because he was just as scary as he was in my dream. He looked like he was doing something to Faye, he was bent over her and she was getting really pale and not moving or anything. Then she was totally still and he walked over to me but he must have been scared by you running down the hall because he ran back into the closet.” Mirin didn’t mention that he paused long enough to look at her and that his grey eyes had been almost human.
“What did he look like? Was he a big man? How could he have gone into the closet and escaped? How did he hurt your sister?” Archer shook Mirin a little bit as he asked these questions, realized that he was taking his frustration out on her and loosened his grip around her arms.
“He wasn’t a man.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t a man?”
“He wasn’t a man,” Mirin repeated, “He didn’t look human. When I first saw him he looked kind of tall and furry like Sasquatch.” Mirin and Faye had been learning about Sasquatch from Penny, who had a guilty fascination with cryptozoology. “But when he was going back into the closet he looked more like a slimy lizard. And he had these teeth… ” She trailed off, terrified at even the memory of the creature that killed her sister and had almost killed her too.
“What do you mean he wasn’t a man? He looked like Sasquatch? What are you talking about Mirin? Tell me the truth.” Archer was not happy that Mirin would choose a time like this to let her imagination run wild.
“I am telling the truth!” She cried. “Something came out of there,” She pointed accusingly at the closet door which still hung open, “And killed Faye!” She screamed the last word and fainted.
Archer held her in his arms, unsure of what to do or what to think. Mirin was obviously in shock and understandably unable to process what had happened to her sister. He didn’t know how to process it either.
“Penny? How’s Faye? Did the CPR work?” He looked up at the opposite bed for the first time in minutes and saw his wife staring into space, holding Faye’s hand. She was no longer hovered over Faye doing compressions, she was sitting quietly next to her, holding Faye’s head in her hands and running her fingers through Faye’s hair.
She looked at him. “Hmm?”
“How did the CPR go?”
“Oh, fine. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“The paramedics will be here soon, I’m sure they’ll be able to do something. And if not, we’re very close to the hospital so they can get her in and have some kind of specialist fix her.” Archer was trying to comfort her but Pen didn’t seem to need any comforting, she looked as though she had lost a bit of her grip on reality. It worried him, as did Faye’s silence.
Archer made sure that Mirin was breathing, her breath was shallow but there, and eased her out of his arms and onto her bed. He went to Penny and put his arms around her. Faye’s body was obviously cool and she didn’t seem to be breathing. As Archer realized this he looked at Penny and saw that she had known Faye was dead for a few minutes and the knowledge had separated her from reality. He held her tighter, tears rolling down his cheeks. He couldn’t believe that Faye was dead. Grieving for her was almost impossible, but to do so alone, to see Penny unable to process or accept Faye’s death was even harder.
Penny spoke suddenly, startling Archer and causing tears to fly off his face as he jerked it in surprise.
“I knew this would happen.” Her voice sounded dreamy and far away.
“All day, I knew something was about to happen. It’s my fault. I could have stopped this, I could have stayed in their room, I could have insisted. But I didn’t.” She was silent. And then she started to tremble in his arms, lightly at first but increasingly stronger. “I failed her and now she’s dead!” Penny howled.
Archer held her and they cried together.
“Penny, it’ll be ok. We’ll be ok. Maybe the paramedics can do something. His words sounded false to his ears but he thought that maybe Penny wouldn’t notice in her despair. Red and blue lights flashed across the white drapes of the twins’ room and Archer knew the ambulance had arrived. Not the twin’s room, Mirin’s room. Oh god, Mirin’s room.
“I’ll go let them in, stay here, I’ll be right back.”
“Pen, she’ll be fine. And you couldn’t have known what would happen. Hell, we don’t even know what actually happened yet. I’m going to go downstairs and let the paramedics in when they get here. You just stay here with the girls. Mirin fainted but I think she’s fine. She’s going to be really freaked out when she wakes up though so just try and keep her calm, okay?” Archer went downstairs, Strawberry Shortcake and Jem following closely at his heels as if they were anxious to be far away from the twins’ bedroom and the events unfolding there.
The paramedics arrived within a few minutes and followed Archer upstairs into the girls’ bedroom. They rushed over and started to work on Faye as Archer pulled Penny back to give them some room. Mirin was starting to stir so Archer sat on the bed and pulled her back into his lap.
“Shh, it’s okay honey, I’m here.” He murmured to her as she became fully conscious again.
“What happened?” She asked groggily.
“You fainted. But it’s going to be okay, you’re fine, and your Mom and I are here. You’re safe.” He assured her as he rocked her slowly back and forth.
“Where’s Faye?” Mirin asked, looking around. She noticed the paramedics.
“The paramedics are helping her. We’re going to let them do their work, okay? We’ll just stay back here until they tell us what’s wrong with Faye.”
“Okay.” Mirin reached out and grabbed her stuffed frog, Prince Charming. She knew that only babies slept with stuffed animals but Faye never told anyone at school so she wasn’t worried about anyone finding out about Prince Charming.
Penny stood next to Mirin’s bed and Archer reached out to hold her hand. She continued to cry silently and looked as if she was sleepwalking, eyes open but completely unaware of her surroundings.The paramedics, two guys in their mid-30’s, were talking quietly when the burlier of the two guys stood up and turned to the three family members.
“I’m real sorry, but the little girl is gone.”
Mirin’s eyes filled with tears once again but she didn’t faint. Archer clutched Mirin tightly and said “Are you sure?”
“We’re sure. She passed about 30 minutes ago. Again, I’ve very sorry. Is there anyone you need to call?” The paramedic asked.
“No. I mean, yes, we have family to call. Who do we call to come, to come…? ”
The other paramedic, the skinny one, stood up and handed Archer a card. “Here’s the name and number of the coroner, he’ll come and take your daughter’s body so an autopsy can be performed since she died of unknown causes in a private residence. We'll call him for you but this is just so you have his information.”
“Thank you.” Archer stood up to see the paramedics to the door and Mirin stood with him, holding his hand in one of hers and Prince Charming in the other. “Penny, would you like to come with us, I can make you a cup of tea. It might be good for us to all take a breather.”
“No. I’m not leaving her.” Penny responded. She hadn’t looked up at him when he spoke to her but now she met his eyes. “You and Mirin go, I’m going to stay here.” She unlocked herself from her statue pose and went back to hold Faye’s head and stroke her hair. She started to quietly sing a Patty Griffin song, the first line of which went …. Oh god, Penny had been destroyed by this, Archer thought. I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to come back from this. This is all so unreal. Nothing registered on his face, he couldn’t let Mirin see how precarious their family unit had just become. Instead he smiled at her and squeezed her hand reassuringly.
Archer and Mirin walked the paramedics to the door and in a gesture that was the cherry on this sundae of hell, he thanked them for coming and wished them a good night. Archer closed the door behind them and went over to the phone but then realized he wasn’t ready to face telling anyone else about Faye’s death, not just yet. Telling people, saying it out loud, would make the whole thing real and he couldn’t, Penny couldn’t handle that yet. He turned and decided to go back upstairs and talk to Penny. He started to walk towards the stairs when he realized that Mirin was still holding his hand, following him like a silent, broken puppy. Instead of forcing her to go back to her bedroom to face Faye he led her into the living room and they sat on the couch.
"Hey honey, are you okay? I mean, I know you're not okay, but... How are you?" Archer asked her, stumbling terribly over his words.
Mirin clutched Prince Charming. She looked up at Archer with tears in her eyes and said quietly, "It was so scary Daddy."
He pulled her into his lap, his only living daughter, and closed his eyes as the tears he tried to control in front of her broke free. "I know honey, I'm sorry you had to go through that. You were so brave, Faye would be really proud of you.”
“Do you think he’s going to come back?” She asked with utter terror in her eyes.
“Sweetie, I think whatever happened to Faye was really scary and just too much for your brain to handle so it invented someone so you didn’t have to face the truth of what happened to her. There was no one in that room but you and Faye.”
“But there was!” Mirin exclaimed, and jumped up out of her father’s comforting embrace “He killed Faye!”
“Keep your voice down, I don’t want you to scare your mother.”
“What the hell does that matter now? Faye’s dead!” She yelled.
“Mirin, watch your language. Your mom just needs some peace and quiet, to be left alone for a little while so she can try and come to grips with what just happened.”
“He was there, Daddy. He killed her. I was scared but I know what happened. I didn’t make it up. He looked at me as he was walking back into the closet and I saw his eyes. They were, grey.” She paused when describing his eyes because although the creature had been terrifying in appearance and monstrous in his actions, his eyes had seemed lost and apologetic. “He was a monster, Daddy.”
Archer looked at Mirin, who had always been his sensible, no-nonsense daughter. Faye was the one who was always dreaming up magical worlds and imaginary friends and attending fairy ballets. Mirin was the skeptic, even at 9. She and Faye got along better than most siblings and their differences never became a point of contention for them. He was shocked at Mirin’s insistence at what had killed her sister.
“Let’s just talk about this tomorrow. But don’t tell your mom, it would just upset her more.”
“Fine.” Mirin looked at the floor angrily, her little mouth a thin, stubborn line.
“Let’s go check on her.” Archer held out his hand to her.
“I know I’m too big, but would you carry me upstairs Daddy?” Mirin asked him, the angry stubborn look wiped from her face in an instant and replaced with the grief of a twin who was suddenly a singleton.
Archer swallowed down the tears that threatened to breach his eyes again. “Of course Mir.”
He picked her up, her skinny arms wrapped themselves around his neck and her coltish legs wrapped themselves around his waist, just as they had when she was a little girl and he would carry her up to bed. She put her head on his shoulder and started to cry. “I miss Faye already, Daddy.”
Now Archer started to cry as well. “I know honey. Me too.”
Penny was still sitting on Faye’s bed when Archer carried Mirin upstairs.
“I’m going to put Mirin to bed in our room, okay Pen?” He asked. Between the shock, the grief and the late hour, sleep would be the best thing for her now. Penny didn’t answer. She continued brushing Faye’s hair with her fingers.
Mirin didn’t make a sound as Archer laid her down, her eyes were closed and her cheeks were wet. She wasn’t quite asleep but she didn’t move as Archer covered her up with the queen size quilt and tucked Prince Charming more snuggly into her arms. He wiped her cheeks with the back of his sleeve and smoothed her hair back from her head. Within minutes she was breathing deeply and her face relaxed as sleep overtook her. Archer sat with her for a moment, dreading when he would have to go back into the girls room and face his wife. The truth lay between them like a monstrous, evil heart. Penny had known something was going to happen to the girls. She had known and had ignored her instincts as if they were a fleeting hormonal imbalance. She had known and done nothing. And now Faye was dead. How was that possible? How was his baby dead? She went to sleep not six hours ago and had been a vibrant, funny, whimsical little girl. Now she lay in her bed while her stunned, silent mother held her and existed on a whole other level, one where her daughter wasn’t dead.
He stood up, knowing that he had to go to Penny and prepare her to face the coroner who he assumed would be arriving shortly. As he walked down the hallway Archer counted the number of steps it was from he and Penny’s room to the girls room. Fifteen. Fifteen steps between him and Faye and he could do nothing to save her. Oh fuck, this was so fucked up. How could this be happening?
“Hey Pen.” He sat down next to her and looked at Faye. The one saving aspect of this moment was that Faye looked peaceful and beautiful, as she always did when she slept. She was losing her vibrant color and looking more grey than pinky peach but she looked just as sweet as she had when she went to bed. Penny looked at Archer but she didn’t answer him.
“The coroner should be here soon. Do you want to dress her in something… ?” He trailed off. He had been thinking that the night would be cold and he wanted to make sure Faye was warm enough but that didn’t really matter now; she was dead. “I’m sorry, I just thought… ”
“I know what you thought.” Penny replied softly, finding her voice. “I had the same thought before I realized it was stupid.” She let go of Faye’s hand and turned on the bed to face Archer. “How’s Mirin?”
“As well as you could expect. She’s asleep in our bed, I didn’t want to bring her in here. She’s exhausted and terrified.”
“My poor baby. I should go see her.” She said, not moving or making an effort to act on that suggestion. She began to stroke Faye’s hair again.
“I don’t want to disturb her. I think she’s in shock actually, Pen. She kept insisting that Faye was killed by a monster. She mentioned something about it when we first ran in the room after she screamed and in the chaos of it all I didn’t think anything of it. But downstairs after the paramedics left she mentioned it again, and insistently. She got real pissed at me when I told her it was nonsense. I’m worried about her.” Archer said. “You’re right, it’s probably just shock. I can’t imagine waking up to your sister being dead. I’m going to wash my face, and I really need to see Mir.” The tears stood out in Penny’s eyes and Archer could read the unspoken need there. She needed to touch Mirin’s sleeping form, to see her chest go up and down and feel her breath just like they did when the girls were babies, and most importantly to feel the sweet heavy warmth of her. Penny needed to make sure she still had one daughter left.
Archer scooted into the spot that Penny had vacated and picked up Faye’s hand to hold. He wasn’t superstitious and he wasn’t a religious man but he didn’t want to leave his baby alone. He couldn’t bear the thought of her being alone right now. His little girl, alone, in the dark. A million thoughts sped through his mind, none of them sticking. Above all else, the drum beat in his head, how did this happen? How could Faye die? She was just a kid for Christ sake. He knew there wouldn’t be any answers for a while but that didn’t stop him from imagining the many things that could have killed a perfectly healthy little girl while she slept. A heart problem they didn’t know about? A brain aneurysm? Archer felt like he was grabbing at straws but those were the only two options he could see because anything else would have had symptoms or some other warning sign. Unless there were warning signs and they just didn’t see them. He could feel himself spiraling down into a panic hole and tried to pull himself out of it. It was unlikely that they had missed something. It was possible that she had some really rare disease that one kid in a 100,000 had. That would be an understandable explanation.
He wondered if he would ever understand a 9 year old dying.
“Oh Faye honey, I’m so sorry.” Archer started to sob and collapsed on Faye, clinging to her swiftly cooling little body.