The Un-End

It started out like any other day – a lot of stories do. I was walking my dog, Patsy, at the usual time in the usual place. But there was something distinctly unusual about the air. It was cooler than the average autumn morning (if you can really call it morning when the sun has barely yet committed to rising). More to the point though, the air was heavy, as if it should have been thick with fog or humidity. Instead, it just seemed to weigh on Patsy and me.

After urinating on her favourite tree, Patsy bellowed a deep gurgled cry and began digging. Any other day I’d have left her to it, anxious to see what all the fuss was about. But not that day. On that particular morning, the cumbrous chill was burying itself in my pores and nesting an uneasiness all through me. I felt uncomfortable; irritated. I tugged on her fraying leash to hurry her along and had half a mind to bark back when she vocally resisted. I crouched down and plucked her off the soft grass, wetted by the fresh morning dew. She struggled to free herself from my grip – and that’s when I saw it. Her paws were caked with blood. I know you see that sort of thing in the movies all the time, but somehow I hadn’t been prepared for the absoluteness of having a stranger’s viscous, rancid, heart-juice pawed onto my chest.

So that’s the story of how Patsy found poor Bailey Marcus; a plain-jane, straight B student majoring in nothing, holding no special achievements with which to mark her gravestone. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but it’s true, and I’m sure she knew it. What the unremarkable Bailey could not have known on the night that she got done in, though, was that she was finally about to have a profound effect on someone’s life – mine.

See, it was right about then (the moment with the viscera and the barking) that I started obsessing about Bailey. Her blood was on me, and it doesn’t get much more weirdly intimate than that. I felt like I owed it to both of us to seal that bond. The problem, of course, is figuring out how one goes about sealing a bond with a dead girl. Thinking about it made my head blur and swirl, the way cream does when it hits the dark abyss of coffee in a black mug. Spinning in circles seemed appropriate, though, since I had no starting point and no idea what the end point would be.

After the police questioning, the bagging and tagging, and the four hour diner shift that managed to feel like 16 rather than the typical 8, I headed home intending to crash land on my bed. During the walk I let my head blur and swirl as it pleased until I looked up and realized I was no where near my bed. I’d wound up at the university. It was as if I had been drawn to it by a magnetic force. At the scene of the crime, I had overheard the detectives going through Bailey’s wallet. It’s how I had learned her name, and that she was a student. I guess I was curious. I never applied to university; never stepped foot on a campus until then, which seemed as good a time as ever. As did the next day, and the day after that. I had no idea what I was looking for, or what I was getting out of the experience; but somehow walking those same grounds that Bailey had walked brought me peace of mind. It felt natural; right, even. I hadn’t considered how strange it might be until a detective questioning some of her classmates noticed me.

October was just closing in and the air was dry and rough against the skin. I was sitting on a rock in front of the entrance to the Film Studies department. I suppose it looked as though I was people-watching, but really I was just in my own head. I had recently taken to making up stories about Bailey that would take place wherever I happened to be on campus. On this particular occasion, I was imagining she had sat on this very rock skipping class, reading The Bell Jar, when a fire alarm hurried everyone outside. She would have dropped her book in the crowd and had to crawl over people’s feet to find it. I’m not sure where that story was going, because it was abruptly interrupted by a stern man looming over me, his badge catching the only bit of sunlight peeking through the dense mid-morning clouds.

He obviously had no leads on Bailey’s murder yet, and asked me why I was sitting outside of her World Cinema class, and whom I was waiting for. I explained that I had no idea that it would have been one of Bailey’s classes, and that I just liked the scenery there. His inquisitive nature led to a few more questions, to which I gave snarky remarks. But when he left, my heart began to pound. I had managed to find Bailey, a real piece of her. World Cinema.

That day, I sat in on a lecture about the ephemeral nature of Italian Neorealism; how it has no beginning, and no end. How it is independent of rules, of law, and of death. The room was surprisingly warm for its size. With an amphitheatre structure, it was easy to just become another face in the crowd – Bailey’s, even. So as the days grew colder, and shorter, I was comforted by following the day-to-day of Bailey (or what I had created of her, anyways). And then it happened. It always happens when you least expect it, I guess. Death.

I was walking home from an evening lecture on Gothic Architecture (I had branched out my stolen studies), when I caught a glimpse of a shadow behind me. You always like to think that when it happens, you’ll do all the right things, and put shame to those scream queens on the silver screen. But you don’t. He came upon me with such force, such intent, I almost admired his gumption. I fought back of course, but it didn’t matter. Seeing his face became immeasurably important. I snatched off his hood, and pulled down the scarf. Lyle Jones. An obnoxiously well-spoken front-row student in Bailey’s World Cinema class. He’d been eyeing me, but not in a way that put me on edge. Actually, it was flattering. When he looked at me, it was as if a familiarity shot between us. But now, there was nothing between us except blood.

And that’s when I realized it. The story was never about Patsy finding Bailey, or my obsession with Bailey – hell, it wasn’t even about me. All along it’s been about this guy; Bailey’s killer. And now, I won’t get to see how it ends.

 © Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Throbbing Penitence

It is just passed the witching hour, and I make the regrettable decision to put out the fire. As the vibrant embers asphyxiate under the weight of the tepid well-water, they get their revenge by transmogrifying into a vengeful smoke that happily chokes me.

Immediately, I seek an escape from the caliginous prison that the room has become. Of course, there is none.

Outside, beasts howl at the moon, aching to taste my flesh and bones, and to swallow me up under the veil of darkness. I shudder at the thought and resign to sleeping away my nerves. By candlelight, I creep reluctantly through the empty house, romanticizing the security of my bed. But before I reach it, the ritual thudding begins.

From below my feet there comes a wretched pounding, the throb of a monster that is my own penitence. For below my feet I’ve laid a body and a soul which refuses to rest until I am by its side – as I should be. Suddenly, the beasts outside seem more inviting than the beastliness inside of my home; inside of that casket; inside of me. My own soul rots by the day, guilt crushing it from the inside. It won’t be long now until that soul gets its final wish.

Outside, the night knows my secret, and watches me in the form of a crow perched at the windowsill above my bed. As I sink below it, it takes flight into the unforgiving sky, the way a damned soul will not.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Humble Pie

Yvonne Reached over the stove and closed the window, suffocating the sweet smell of baked goods within her tiny kitchen. The sun, unwilling to set just yet, let its orange light coruscate through the shutters.

The room fell still. Her silence was thick, her limbs heavy, and her fresh bruises sore. Yvonne sucked back the last of a cigarette, its sizzle screeching through the room until it was almost an echo. 

She stood wide-eyed; her consciousness watching  from somewhere outside of her body, floating among the tarred nicotine smoke and the swirling blueberry-scented heat. The fog grew heavy around her, but she didn’t bat an eye.

When Yvonne heard his car pull into the driveway, she dropped the wilted butt into the sink and exhaled the last of its unsavory fumes. Donning her oven mitts, she pulled the oven door open and peeked inside at her masterpiece. The blueberry pie was perfectly sculpted and was perhaps the most delectable image she had ever seen in her own home. She had been so patient with it, so tender and cautious. After all, any misstep would spell disaster, and Yvonne was through with disasters.

His footsteps thumped through the empty halls and trailed into a back room. He hadn’t even said hello. The nerve of him – it shouldn’t surprise her anymore.

Yvonne placed the pie on the white wooden table, a sharp edged spatula neatly at its side. There were no heart palpitations, no shivers; no indications of anxiety at all. Her peace had been made.

He entered the kitchen, sniffing his way to the pie like a dog. When he spotted the nectarous dessert on display just for him, he smiled. It wasn’t a genuine smile, or a thankful one. It was a smile of triumph. He was filled with pride at the idea that he had once again smacked some sense into his feeble little wife. The pie, he thought, was his reward – an assurance that she had been put in her place.

For too long, Yvonne figured out that morning, domesticity had been thought of as synonymous with docile. For too long, Yvonne realized that morning, she had let it be. Well, not anymore.

She picked up the spatula, gleaming in the dying sunlight still trying to seep through. She watched him seat himself, eager to be served, like a royal who thinks he has no enemies when the whole court is plotting against him. She almost smiled, but that would be a misstep.

The hunk of pie, perfectly cut, was surely a sight to remember. Its glazed crust, its prominent fruit filling – everything about it was so inviting. And, so deceitful.

Yvonne backed away from the table, faced the sink, and wordlessly set to work on the dishes. It was only when she heard the gurgling begin to creep out of his throat the she let herself smirk. At first, it was slight but as the sound of struggle behind her increased so too did her sense of victory. Soon enough, the smile had taken over her entire being.

Until that moment, she had forgotten what it was to be happy.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©