I killed him. He ain’t never done nothin to nobody an I killed him. That sweet child, his little bloody pieces just floatin on down the Mississippi. Ain’t nothin gonna be right for me no more but ain’t nothin gonna be right for him no more neither.


              “He’ll be a fine worker Mathew, this town needs a reporter. You can’t go on havin’ Bud do those shoddy stories. That ain’t a newspaper. Now Damien, he’s a real journalist. He’s got a pretty little wife, Elisabeth. They got a little girl, Anne, she’s just about four. Be a perfect playmate for Avery, don’tcha think?”

           “Yessir, but why you think that you can go runnin’ my newspaper. I know we need somebody, but you shouldn’ta gone on and hired him without me even seein’ him.”

           “Now Mathew, It’s not like I’m just the mayor to ya,” he made a pointed glance, “I Jus’ wanted to help ya out. Besides, it’s already a done deal, no use cryin’ now. I’ve given them the Scheffs’ old house. What a nice family they were; too bad what happened to their son. After little James died they sure left in a hurry. Feels like a curse on this old town, with all these old people. Ain’t any decent women or children that last long here. Jus’ hope that don’t happen with the new Johnston family. Damien and Elisabeth have a proper family. Jus’ hope they stay here a while.”


            The little car sputtered and rumbled as we turned down the dirt road. I hadn’t ever been to the town and yet I was sitting here in the noisy black car piled with all of our things. Anne was there, huddled in the back seat, desperately holding onto the petite china doll that my mother had given her for Christmas; Damien – so proud that we were finally going to have our own home – hummed as he drove.

           “This is the street Elisabeth. We’re almost there; our very own house is just ahead.” Damien looked like a child who had been praying for a bike all year long and had snuck into his parents’ closet weeks before Christmas to find the shiny thing hiding among the clothes. I stared out the window at gloomy houses; peeling paint, overgrown grass, and porches with gaping holes lined the street. In a rocking chair sat a lady, white hair flying around her face; her eyes followed us as we drove. The next house showed a similar scene, this time with a man in red flannel peering towards us. “Those look like fine, decent neighbors, don’t you think Lizzy?”

            “I’m not sure, Damien; they look ancient to me. Look, there’s one in almost every porch, just staring. Aren’t there any people our age here?” The sharp edge in my voice gave away my true feelings and I was filled with regret as soon as I said it.

            “Elisabeth, I know you don’t like this. I know it’s bothering you, but do you really think we could have stayed in Charleston with your parents for the rest of our lives? Do you really think it didn’t hurt me every day to walk into that house knowing that your father would look up from his paper at me and wonder why his daughter hadn’t married someone who could buy her a house? This is our opportunity to leave all that behind, just you, me, and Anne. You’ll like it if you just give it a chance. You won’t have all the nice things that your parents gave you, but you can live without those,” his expression was unyielding. “Learn to like it Elisabeth.”


     “When you gonna go visit that new family, Stephanie? That poor lady looks miserable, and rightly so. She ain’t met one person younger than sixty in the last two weeks. I don’t want her to get a hankerin’ for her family and make that fine new reporter pack up and leave. You go on over and take Avery for a visit. Elisabeth is a nice lady; y’all might like each other,” Mayor Kelly sighed and stretched back into his chair. “It’s the least you can do for me. Your mother, rest her soul, would tear her hair out if she’da known what I’ve done for you. You livin’ there with little Avery; it jus’ ain’t right. Now, he’s a nice little boy, but—.”

            “You jus’ be quiet ‘bout my boy, Daddy. You keep your big old nose out of my business, ya hear? Avery and I’s goin’ over there today so you be quiet now. Jus’ because you’s the mayor an you’s my daddy don’t mean you’s a god. You’s just a fat old man who thinks too much of his big fat self.”

            “Don’t get that tone with me! You know where y’all’d be if it weren’t for the things I’ve done for y’all. You and Avery’d be out on the streets. I’ll bet you’d be whorin’ to keep y’all fed.”

            “You get out!” Stephanie jumped to her feet and pointed to the door, “get out right now! If it weren’t for Avery I’d rather be whorin’ than have to see you. You dumb old man, prancin’ about this town like you own it. You ain’t nothin’ you dirty scumbag. You ain’t nothin’ to nobody, ‘cept for maybe Mathew. And you’s only something’ to him because there ain’t no other person in this town who’d touch that puny little dick of his.”


    Jus a little sweet boy. Ain’t never kicked or made one peep. Jus sit there all quiet like. Avery Kelly was a sweet little boy an I killed him. An I jus dumped his little body into that big ol river.


           I was sitting in the kitchen staring at my hands and trying to think of something to keep me occupied. Sweat poured down my forehead and dripped into my eyes. Anne sat on the floor, coloring on the paper I had given her; she didn’t seem to mind the town. The old people loved her – bringing her cookies, milk, and pies. Honestly, it scared me, the way they looked at us; they were sweet, but had they really never seen a child before? I had heard things about the Scheffs, a family that had lived in this house before us; the little bit that I heard was enough to make me want to hold my daughter tight every second of the day.

           A banging started at the door and I pushed myself away from the table. I really need to tell them to bring her something healthier, I thought; sweets every day of the week was not a good routine for a little girl.

            I hadn’t even made it to the door before she was inside, smiling at me like a holy vision. Right here, in the dingy little living room, stood a lady. Not an old and decrepit excuse for a human being, but a woman; a woman no more than thirty years old.

            “Hi,” her drawl was already apparent, but since she was half the age of any other person in this town I made the effort to interpret the mangled speech, “Stephanie Kelly, and this here’s Avery. Avery Kelly. Y’all sure got a nice table miss, ain’t never seen none so purty as this’n.” I followed her as she rushed into my house.

            “Miss Kelly, this is my daughter, Anne. Anne, this is Miss Kelly and Avery; Say hello to Avery.” Anne stared openly at the boy. She hadn’t spent much time with children, but she knew from Avery’s sloping forehead and doe-shaped eyes that he wasn’t like her. Avery smiled and waved his hands at Anne.

            “He won’t hurt her none, he’s eleven but he’s jus like your young’n in his head. He don’t know no difference.” Stephanie smiled at me, “Y’all don’t got no sweet tea here, do y’all?”

            “Oh…Just one moment Miss Kelly.”

            She looked at me incredulously. “How long you gonna keep up all that ‘Miss Kelly’ business? That ain’t my name. Ain’t never been called that by no one I’s friends with. Stephanie will do jus fine, because I know you and I’s gonna get along real great.”

            I tried to hide my expression as I poured her tea. Not once in my life had I ever been reprimanded so severely for my manners; it was to be expected in this town where manners meant nothing. Stephanie was already forgiven, though; I was desperate for a friend.


         “I told you you’d like it Elisabeth,” Damien grinned at me across the table, “Stephanie, or should I say ‘Steph’nay’ really likes you. She’s probably just as glad for you as you are for her…and Anne loves playing with Avery.”

            I raised the corners of my lips in a half-hearted smile; I did like Stephanie – her overbearing and outrageous personality complements my quiet nature in a way I never thought possible – but there was something odd about her; I knew nothing about her past. Stephanie and I had spent nearly every day together for the past three months and I still didn’t know who Avery’s father was. Every time I tried to mention it I was met with as much coldness as I was when I dared to mention her father, Mayor Kelly. “Actually, I think Anne just likes getting her picture taken. Stephanie is always taking pictures of the kids.” I smiled wryly, biting into my toast.

            “I can’t imagine how Stephanie got that thing. It’s almost as nice as the one I use when I do my reporting. I can’t see Mayor Kelly giving her something like that; the two of them act like they don’t even know each other.” Damien shook his head. “More milk?”

            “No thanks,” I murmured. “They are strange, the mayor seems to ignore Stephanie, but I know that he pays for everything she has. I wonder if she’s ever been away from him.”

            “I doubt it Lizzy; people like that stay in these little towns until the day they die.”


If Avery don’t get to live, there ain’t one soul in this town that should live neither. Ain’t no other young’ns who should get big an strong. Ain’t right, cause Avery ain’t big or strong. May be there’s some fish nibblin away on his body right now. He ain’t strong, he’s dead.  


            Damien and I sat on the sofa watching Anne and Avery play; Stephanie had asked me to watch him for the evening so that she could go talk to her father about something. Avery was fascinated by Anne’s short blond curls and he kept trying to straighten her hair out. Every few minutes he would stop what he was doing and rake his pudgy fingers through her hair.

            “Damien, do you think you could get some old copies of the newspapers for me?” I asked softly. “I’d like to know more about the Scheffs.”

            “Well, what they had couldn’t really be called a newspaper hon, but I’ll get you some. Why are you so curious about them anyway?” Damien stared at me questioningly. I wondered if I should tell him about Anne’s nosebleeds; one of the neighbors had gossiped that James, the Scheffs’ son, had begun his illness with nosebleeds. I knew how much the people in this town liked to talk though, and I didn’t want to worry Damien.


  When every young’n in this town is dead things’ll be right again. And I know how to fix it.


          “Stephanie, you keepin’ quiet about things with that Elisabeth girl, aintcha?” Mayor Kelly raised his eyebrow. “I’m real glad y’all like each other, it sure is good for them kids too. They jus’ don’t needta know none ‘bout things, ya hear?”

            “Daddy, I been keepin’ my trap shut ‘bout that for thirteen years. I ain’t ‘bout to go talking’ now. Jus’ you keep on keepin’ Avery and me fed and happy and you don’t hav’ta worry none about no blabberin’ from me.” 


            My palm stuck to the paper as I unfolded it; black ink was smudged onto my fingers and I was sure it was all over my forehead where I was continually pushing damp hair from my eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was reading; over the last nine years, seven different families with children had lived in this town. The first child died two weeks after his family arrived; the second child abruptly became deaf and mute; the third child contracted an illness that swiftly stole all movement from her body; the fourth and fifth children also became sick and were dead within months; the sixth child was suddenly unable to see or speak; the seventh child, James Scheff, became seriously ill after his family had lived here for four months…He died two months later.

            I anxiously looked towards Anne. Except for her frequent nosebleeds during the days she seemed fine. Stephanie said I didn’t need to worry; it was just a phase. She had them so often that she was almost able to keep from crying each time her nose bled; Stephanie said that this was a good thing because it meant that she was learning strength from the experience. I disagreed; children did not learn strength by knowing that their body is week: they learn strength when they have overcome their body’s weakness.

           The stories about the children put an even deeper fear in my heart for my own child; why had these things happened? Was it just coincidence; would these families have been healthy had they not moved here, or was it this town? Could these things possibly have happened because there was something in the town that was making the children ill?

            Frantic thoughts raced through my mind. Perhaps a deadly plant in one of the swamps nearby, or some mineral in the water…something was causing this. 


        The boy didn’t even know I had him. He just sit there an play with them toy trains like he ain’t in no trouble. They been here two weeks an I jus take picture after picture of him an his mom don’t have one clue. 


           “Damien, I want to leave this place,” I pressed my hands to my eyes, “something’s going to happen to Anne if we don’t; you saw her last night.”

            “Calm down Lizzy; the nosebleed only lasted for a few minutes. That’s the only one she’s had, right?” I shook my head miserably “How many?”

            “She has them all the time during the day. I don’t know what it is; I think it’s because of this town; it’s trying to kill her like it killed all of the other children.” My voice trembled more with each word I uttered. It seemed as if by stating how I felt I was making what I feared become true.

            “Honey, lets go to bed; you need to sleep. We’ll talk about it in the morning when you’re feeling better, ok?”


   When my daddy raped me an then made me kill Avery I was spittin mad. Second time he put his dick in me I ran away. My momma said it was my fault too, didn’t believe one bit what I said bout my daddy. Said I was a disgrace. I’s so angry bout that still. 


            I cradled Anne in my arms; she was almost asleep. I was disappointed that I couldn’t see Stephanie: I had wanted to ask her if she knew anything about the children. Anne seemed exhausted all the time and even the least exerting activities caused her to have a nosebleed. Damien said that it was nothing, but I dreaded the moment when I would see that first drop of blood spill onto her dress; Anne would look at me with a guilty and scared expression; I would try to hide my horror and fear from her.

            Avery wasn’t feeling well that day and Stephanie had cancelled the outing we’d planned for the four of us. Instead, Anne curled up in my arms and fell into a deep sleep which I was sure she needed. Anne and Avery had both been feeling worse in the last month; Stephanie seemed quieter: I was starting to feel even more frightened and lonely. 


           “Things’ll be alright, you ain’t gonna feel this bad forever. Jus you give it a little time and you’ll see what I mean. You and Stephanie had a hard time together so you’s jus don’t know how to handle it yet. You gonna get the hang of it right soon enough.”

            “Cain’t believe why this’d happen Mathew. Saw the two of ‘em last night. They both right fine and happy. They went on home and gone up to bed and next day they’s jus’ gone. Sheriff say Stephanie took some kinda drug; Avery jus’ went on and stopped breathing like they said he would someday.” The mayor shook his head and sighed. “Jus’ ain’t right.”  


           Mayor Kelly had asked me to go through Stephanie’s things and keep anything I wanted; I was currently surrounded by mysterious liquids that I assumed were used to develop Stephanie’s pictures.

            I couldn’t fathom how quickly she was gone from my life; a quiet seeped around me without her cheerful chatter. The house that she lived in seemed to contrast her outgoing demeanor: Almost everything in her basement was a little damp and the air stung my throat when I breathed.  

            A box in the corner was filled with neatly typed paper; curious, I made my way towards it. There were no dates, but I could tell it was some sort of journal; each entry was separated by a thick black line and it was obvious that she wrote like she spoke. The first few pages contained little anecdotes about each day with Avery. After reading a few, I pulled the last five pages from the bottom of the pile; I wanted to know why my friend had taken her own life and I hoped that the most recent ‘entries’ to her journal would help me understand why. I leaned my back against the cool wall and began to read: 

Daddy was purty mad when he found out I’s gonna call my new baby Avery too. He don’t like that name none too much. May be cause he didn’t even let the first boy named Avery pop outta my belly before he made me murder him. He knowed what I’s doin all those times I’s out there by the river, he knowed I’s thinkin bout how I murdered my boy.

             I trembled as I tried to grasp what I had read; a fine sticky sweat began to cover my palms as I wondered what she had meant by the two Avery’s. Was there one that had been dead for years; one that had been dead only a week? How could she have kept such a secret? I couldn’t imagine having something like that inside of me, slowly eating away at my heart until I thought it would be better for me to die than to continue on in this life. I felt like I was betraying her trust by reading this, but it was impossible for me to put the papers away after I had read that.  

I knowed right away what I’s doin when I’s takin pictures of my new Avery. I’s killin’ him. Ain’t no way he’s gonna last long in this here life, not with me putting all that hate through the shutter and directin it at him. Cept I think I kinda wisht he don’t have to die. Suppose that’s why he ain’t dead yet. He ain’t the only kid neither. All them other kids, I’s jus sneaking round takin pictures an hatin them so much. I knowed I could kill them too. Ain’t not one person who go through this much pain that cain’t do it. Ain’t many people who been through what I have neither, an most who have don’t care one way or t’other that they can, they jus sit and feel bad about their selves. I ain’t doin that though. I’s fixin things. I’s givin them young’ns all that hate an they’s got nothin’ to keep em livin no more.     

Avery’s bout to die. He jus ain’t gonna keep on goin longer. I gone an got the stuff for me. Ain’t no way I’m gonna stick around in this place without my Avery again.  

            I cried out and viciously threw the papers from me; one fell back onto my lap and I tore it in half before flinging it away from me and grinding it into the floor with my heel. In the bottom of the box was a small metal container; I knew what I would find when I opened it and yet I pried the top off anyway. A smiling boy played with his trains; a girl chased her mother around their yard; a father carried his son on his shoulders. The pictures went on forever and at the bottom of the stack I found an envelope; she had typed my name on the outside along with a short message:  

Elisabeth, you’s the best friend I’s ever had. I hate everythin that loved you cause I loved you the best. I know you gonna be sad, but don’t you worry. Things is gonna be right now cause I don’t hate no one no more. 

             I hesitantly slid my finger beneath the paper and it sliced sharply through my flesh. I pried open the last corner, picture upon picture tumbled onto my lap; Anne’s sweet smiling face stared up at me from every single one. 


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