She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
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She Dies at the End

By A.M. Manay

 

 

 

Text Copyright 2015 © A.M. Manay

All Rights Reserved

Pythoness Press

Livermore, California

Acknowledgements

 

Many thanks to my husband for his unwavering support, to my son for his smiles, to my friends and family for their encouragement, to my high school English teachers for their knowledge and wisdom, and to the staff of Starbucks number 6532.  I could not have completed this project without your help and kindness.

Chapter 1

She watched them bury her again.

Four people stand in a garden.  The short redhead, an impatient fireplug, has a dusty shovel in his large hands.  His wide shoulders stretch his clothes.  A tiny teenager with caramel skin stands beside him and places a hand on his arm, her tunic marred by drops of blood.  A tall waif stands apart, distraught, shaking; blue tears fall from her eyes, eyes the same shade of electric blue as her hair. Closest to the grave is the bloody businessman, his dark suit stained darker still with blood, his white shirt ruined, his shoes dusty, his designer tie twisted, now turned more noose than accessory.

His face is stone.  His eyes scream.  His fangs catch the light.  A girl is dead because she tried to help him.  His girl is dead, just like the ones before.

Her corpse waits patiently, cradled in the gnarled roots of an old tree. Blood has soaked through her blue silk dress.  It stains her mouth, covering the blue tinge of death.  The businessman bends down and kisses her forehead.  He lifts her up, leaps gracefully into the grave, and places her carefully into her resting place.  Her dark blue eyes are still open, but she doesn’t look frightened.  She looks relieved.  He closes them gently, touches her cheek.  A drop of blood wells in his eye, rolls down his cheek, falls silently onto her dark hair, evidence of his grief: her killer's grief.   

She watched them bury her again.

***

November Snow awoke with the certainty that she’d overslept and promptly bashed her head against the bottom of her table. That was the one drawback to her little nest, but she’d take a sleeping bag on the ground and a knot on her head any day.  It was far preferable to sleeping in her mother’s trailer and the consequent possibility of waking up to sounds she'd rather not hear.  It was rather cozy, actually, along the lines of a blanket fort.

The girl crawled out into the dim light inside her tent and began to prepare for another day of work. She jumped to her feet; a quick glance at her watch confirmed that she had better hustle.  Her oversleeping was no surprise, really, after the previous night’s shenanigans.  She sighed inwardly and ran her hands through her long black hair, yanking out the worst of the tangles and steeling herself to face the day.

Her first task was to wash off the previous day’s dust and sweat, which she did with a quickness as the shower in her mom’s motor-coach lacked hot water. 
What I wouldn't give for a scalding hot bath
, she thought.  Pulling on her thrift store jeans and t-shirt, she caught brief glimpses of their former owners.  Detergent could wash away many things, but not the imprints of those who'd previously worn the clothes. Thankfully, such visions tended to fade with time as she made her the items her own, but the first few days in someone else’s castoffs were always a real headache.  She then attempted to wake her mother from her stupor, which this morning was a futile effort. 
Not that I'm surprised.
  The next job was breakfast.

She walked quickly down the midway toward the food stands.  She grabbed an apple from Sally’s candy apple counter.  Most everyone was busy preparing their games and rides for the influx of marks soon to ensue.  Her few friends greeted her.  More, however, crossed themselves, called her a freak under their breath, and kept on working.

Some of those were men or boys whose advances she’d awkwardly rebuffed.  Her usual reaction to flirtation was alarm.  Physical contact was difficult for her, as it made it much harder to block visions, and she never knew what horrible or funny or embarrassing thing she was going to see.  She cultivated an air of coldness, but when that failed, she usually resorted to channeling their dead relatives.  That was remarkably effective: almost no one wanted to make out with his dead grandpa.

Her general unpopularity stemmed from her severe shyness, her occasional collapses, and her thankfully rare outbursts directed at people no one else could see.  There was probably also some professional jealousy at play.  She was only 17, with two years as part of the carnival, but she took in more money than all the old-timers.  Her relative financial success was likely the only reason the two Snow women hadn’t long since been kicked to the curb.

This time of preparation was the calm before the storm.  In truth, for November, all that existed was a storm of varying degrees.  On a good day, she sat in the eye of it, a dispassionate observer, plucking moments out of the wind and relegating the irrelevant or unhelpful or uninteresting to the background.  On a bad day, the hurricane picked her up and tossed her against the side of a barn.  Her world was never quiet, never empty; the past and the future were always battling to be heard over the present.

Her best defense was an occupied mind.  Reading, studying, drawing, calculating – these gave her enough moments of peace to get by.  Music helped, too.  She sometimes listened to a beat-up old radio as she fell asleep.  It tended to calm her and gave her more pleasant visions as she slept.  Once the gates opened and the crowds poured in, November didn’t leave her tent until the carnival closed.  Being among so many strangers was dizzying, nauseating.  Their echoes swirling around along the empty midway were quite enough for her.

“Here you go, sweetheart: funnel cake, the breakfast of champions.” A sunny, weathered face full of smile lines, crowned with hair more salt than pepper, shone down on November.

“Thanks, Neil,” she replied in her quiet, low-pitched voice, smiling back at him, her eyes brightening for a moment.  Neil was one of the few people she could call a friend; he always tried to look out for her.  He also had the distinction of never having enjoyed her mother’s favors, which gave him a number of gold stars in November’s estimation. 

She hadn’t trusted his kindness at first.  She later found out that he simply missed his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen since his wife had wandered off.  Neil was a lifelong carnie, born and raised; he’d grown up spending half the year on the road and the rest back on the family farm.  His brother Mike owned the carnival, having bought it from their parents when they retired.  Neil had no interest in retiring himself any time soon.  Being around people, making them smile— it was all he was good at.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” added Neil.  “I found something for you yesterday when I went by that strip mall.  They had a used book shop.”  He pulled out a textbook.  “Physics.  That’s the kind of stuff you like, right?”

November was touched.  She didn’t get many gifts.   The black cover was still in good shape.  She flipped through the pages, which were almost unmarked.  She caught a brief image of a boy with glasses and acne burning the midnight oil along with the smell of some nasty energy drink before she turned her attention back to the contents.  It seemed impossibly challenging, which was exactly what she looked for in a distraction.  The harder she had to think, the less likely she was to succumb to stray visions.

“It’s wonderful, Neil.  I really appreciate it.  I’m almost finished with that calculus book, so perfect timing,” she replied, glancing up at him again.  She didn’t so much as blink when she saw a knife sticking out of his chest.  Phantom blood began to stain his flannel shirt; the contrast to his smiling visage was almost funny in a morbid sort of way. 
Let it wash over you like a wave and then back out to sea. 
She took a slow, deep breath.

Such intrusions were a constant irritant.  Someone would brush her shoulder, and suddenly November was watching a car wreck or a mugging or a quintuple bypass.  She did like Neil quite a lot, so she hoped that he would avoid that stabbing, but November had long since learned to hold herself apart from the possible fates of the people around her.  Too much interest, too much empathy, too much wanting to save people from the inevitability of death – that would lead her right back to a hospital.

Even when she tried to warn people, it often backfired.  A person was always willing to believe her about the return of a lost love or a financial windfall but usually just got angry if she suggested that the client get a mammogram or a divorce or a handgun.  Besides, most of her visions were only possible futures that depended on how people made their choices.  Most of what she saw of the future was not set in stone. She’d seen Neil die three different deaths over the past year.  The best thing to do was to ignore what she saw as much as possible.

Neil’s face grew more serious.  “How’s the arm healing?”

November looked down at her sleeve.  “Fine,” she answered.  “Not infected.  You did a good job with the bandages.  The aloe helps.”  Neil had been a medic in the army for a few years right out of high school, and he served as their go-to guy for injuries and minor illness.  She couldn’t quite meet his sad eyes.  She didn’t like him feeling sorry for her, and she was afraid that one of these days he was going to call the child protection people, despite her pleas to the contrary.

November’s greatest fear was getting locked up again in a mental institution.  She'd been sent to one when she'd wound up in foster care after her grandmother had died.  She could fake being normal for a few minutes at a time when she was in public, but in close quarters, her foster family had quickly realized that November saw and heard things that weren’t there.

She was much older now, of course, and could put on a much more convincing act of sanity, but she really didn’t want to take any chances with getting caught up in the system.  The life she’d built here wasn’t easy, but it was hers, and she still found happiness in it.  She would not permit her mother to take it from her.  She had explained all this to Neil, and he’d agreed that the foster care system would not be a good place for her.  Still, he wished he could get her away from her mother.  Only one more month, and November would be 18 and Mike could kick her mother out and still keep November around, which Mike had promised Neil he would do.

“Well, that’s good, I guess,” Neil replied.  He seemed like he was about to say something more and thought better of it.  “Better hurry, kiddo.  Ten minutes until the gates open.  Time for you to turn into the Great and Powerful Oracle.”

“Right.  I should also make sure Mom is up.  Thanks for the book.”  She tossed her trash in the bin and high-tailed it back down the midway.

“Sure thing,” Neil said with a wave.  “I’ll bring you lunch about four o’clock.”

***

The trailer was a mess, of course.  November hated messes.  She began compulsively tidying.  Her mom was up, miracle of miracles, and was actually drinking a cup of coffee as if she were a normal human being. 
Perhaps today won't be a disaster after all.
 

Julia had the same pale skin, dark blue eyes, and jet black hair as her daughter, but there the similarities ended.  Her skin was prematurely aged by drink and drugs and trouble.  Her clothes were always dirty and too large and her eyes haunted by all she’d seen and done and was planning to do.  She never smiled for fear of showing her ruined teeth.  One regret after another was scrawled across her face.  When Julia looked at her daughter, love was poisoned by grief and guilt and not a little fear.   

A toddler screams, inconsolable.  She bangs her head against the wall.  A terrified mother struggles to calm her.  "Dada no go!" the child screams, again and again.  A policeman bleeds in the road.  A gun is dropped into a storm drain.  A uniform stands at the door.  Empty glass bottles fill the trash bin.

November's gift denied her the amnesia most people have about their early childhood.  She could revisit every detail of her father’s death: the scratch of the carpet under her face as she screamed, the crack of the gunshot, the smell of her father’s blood mixed with that of asphalt and exhaust, and the sound of her mother’s muffled weeping and clinking ice.  The St. James Mental Health Center was also always near at hand.  The institutional smell of lemon cleanser or the squeak of rubber shoes was enough to make November queasy. 

The bright spots in her childhood came courtesy of her grandmother, who'd taken her on when Julia had dropped the child off and failed to return.  All November had left of her was a rosary, worn smooth from years in Grandma’s pocket, then a few more years in November’s own.  It had gone with her to foster care and from there to the hospital, where it had been returned to her when she had been released.  She remembered the epic breakdown she’d suffered when the staff had taken it from her upon her arrival.  They’d had to sedate her for days.  Getting it back had seemed like a miracle.

It was her little oasis; fingering the beads, November could hear her grandmother’s voice and smell her cooking and remember the years that she hadn’t been all alone.  She didn’t do much praying with it, unlike its original owner.  November was a little on the outs with the Almighty.  Her grandmother had told her that God had blessed her with her power, but to November, of course, it seemed much more of a curse than a blessing. 

“What happened last night?” her mother asked quietly, fingering her bandages and gingerly palpating her bruised face.

“You tried to steal from your . . . guest.  He caught you and beat the crap out of you.  You’re lucky you didn’t end up in jail or the hospital,” November answered in a quiet voice. 
I wonder if she even felt it.
  The previous night she’d been furious, screaming at her mother, but in the morning light, the woman looked so small and fragile.  November just couldn't summon up the rage.

“Who patched me up?” Julia asked.

“I did.  Neil was busy dealing with the guy, getting him to leave.” 

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
11.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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