Fancy only allowed three people in the whole world to get close to her: Daddy, who was on death row; Madda, who was working the graveyard shift; and Kit, who was dead to the world in the bed next to hers. And so when she awoke to find a prowler hanging over her, violating her personal space, her first instinct was to jab her dream-diary pencil into his eye.
But even in the dark of night with a stranger in her room, Fancy wasn’t one to behave rashly. Daddy had been rash, and now he was going to be killed. No, Fancy would be calm and think of a nonlethal way to teach the prowler why it was important not to disturb a young girl in her bed late at night.
She breathed in the yellow smell of the prowler’s beery exhalations. He was panting, as though from nervousness or excitement. The heat of his hand whispered across Fancy’s cheek, and she felt a tug on her scalp. A pair of scissors flashed in the dark, and then a lock of Fancy’s hair fell against her half-closed eyes, much shorter than it had been.
As soon as the prowler turned his attention toward Kit in the next bed, Fancy slipped quietly to the floor.
Because Fancy and her sister slept in the sleeping porch at the back of the house, a room with screens instead of proper walls, they relied on numerous paperweights to keep their papers from scattering in the constant breeze. Fancy plucked one such paperweight from the desk at the far end of the room, her eyes never leaving the prowler’s back.
While he hung vampirically over her sister’s sleeping form, Fancy crept closer, the paperweight cocked back, cool, smooth, and heavy in her hand, the prowler’s head growing larger in her sight. But before she could swing her fist forward, the prowler screamed and staggered backward, pinwheeling past Fancy and then crashing into the vanity.
The light clicked on. Fancy blinked in the glare and dropped the paperweight; she heard it rolling away. The light brought her back to herself, back to reality—the white summer linens on the beds; the broken-spined medical books along the only real wall, behind Fancy; the old black phonograph near the tea table. The jars full of various animal organs lining the shelves.
The prowler was the only unfamiliar thing, harmless and weaponless now that his scissors lay abandoned on the floor between the sisters’ beds. He sprawled before the vanity, paper white, young, and sweaty; the golden hilt of Kit’s switchblade curled ornately from his side like a strange doorknob to another world.
“Help!” he screamed, his hands fluttering over the hilt of the switchblade, afraid to pull it out.
Kit, in her pink satin slip, knelt beside the prowler, as awake and merry as if she’d been dancing all night. “Who you yelling for, Buttercup?” she asked with her usual zeal, despite the late hour and odd circumstances. “Nobody here but Fancy and me.”
She yanked her knife free, and the prowler jerked back against the vanity, blood soaking his white T-shirt and spreading like an electric-red bruise. One of Kit’s lipsticks dropped into his lap, a mute suggestion from the universe, perhaps, to fix himself up—he certainly wasn’t looking his best.
Before retracting the blade, Kit wiped it clean on the prowler’s jeans, and then scanned her younger sister for damage.
“I thought you were asleep.”
“I thought you were,” said Fancy.
“I saw him leaning over your bed. What was he doing to you?” Kit asked the question brightly, but the look she gave the prowler was anything but.
Fancy touched the shorn black lock dangling in front of her eyes. “He cut my hair.” He’d left plenty behind. Unlike Kit’s pixie-short hair, Fancy’s hair fell past her shoulders in a fluffy waterfall.
“Well, he didn’t come all the way out here to give you a haircut,” said Kit as she frisked the prowler. “Better check the loot.”
Fancy searched under Kit’s bed, but the treasure chest they stored their allowance in was still locked and untouched. “It’s all there,” she said, and returned to the foot of her own bed.
Kit’s search had turned up her charm bracelet and Fancy’s missing hair in a baggie. “I get why you’d want a gold bracelet,” she told the prowler gently, “but hair?” She slapped the bag against his runny nose, ungently. “What do you want with my sister’s hair?”
“Please. Call an ambulance.” The prowler was shocky, confused, as if he didn’t understand that the girl whose question he wasn’t answering was the reason he needed an ambulance.
“Ambulance schmambulance,” said Kit, and poked him in his hurt side. She smiled when he screamed.
“I know,” Kit said with exaggerated slowness, as though the prowler were feeble. “I stabbed you.” She rescued her lipstick from the prowler’s crotch in a way that made him wince.
“You wouldn’t be the first person to die in here,” Kit told him. “Our great-uncle died in Fancy’s bed from influenza when he was eight. I’ll put you in my bed.” Kit shot a questioning look at Fancy. “Seems only fair, right?”
Fancy had pressed her cheek against the cool brass bedpost, her eyes half closed as if she wished she were still asleep. “We can’t let him die in here.”
“I guess not. You tell us,” Kit said to the prowler. “Where do you wanna die?”
The prowler lurched to his feet and scrambled for the screen door. Before he could get it open, Kit snatched a paperweight from the vanity, one with Fancy’s baby teeth inside it, and rapped him on the back of the head. After he crumpled to the floor, Kit said, “Interesting choice.”
The prowler looked much younger in his unconscious state, but still older than Fancy and Kit. College age, at least.
“You think he came as a prank?” said Kit, prodding him with her bare toe. “A college prank, or a hazing? Somebody ordered him to come to the Bonesaw Killer’s house and get proof that—”
“Who cares why he came?” said Fancy, sliding her heated cheek along the post, seeking another cool spot. “Only thing I care about is getting rid of him.”
“You’re right.” Kit propped open the screen door. A dust-colored moth fluttered inside and alighted on Kit’s bare shoulder, as though she were the brightest thing in the room. “Madda would lose her shit if she came home and found the place drenched in blood.”
“Don’t say ‘shit,’” said Fancy as Kit flipped the prowler onto his back and hoisted his legs. “Where’re you taking him?”
“To the cellar.”
The ground shifted under Fancy. She abandoned the bedpost, sweat beading beneath her pink sleep romper.
“What’s wrong?” Kit had paused in the doorway, leggy and boy thin in her slip; nothing like Fancy, who had begun to develop at an alarming rate since her fifteenth birthday a few months before.
Fancy felt as though she were experiencing another symptom of that unwanted development, something like a menstrual cramp, only in her chest instead of her belly. She thought of Daddy, and the last time she’d seen him in that courtroom three years ago. She didn’t want this to be the last time she saw Kit.
“Madda’ll find out.”
“Madda’s scared of the cellar,” said Kit, dragging the prowler halfway out the door, carefully navigating her backward descent down the porch steps. “Not enough loot in the world to make her go near it.”
“What if he screams?”
“You ever hear Daddy’s people when they were in the cellar?”
Fancy grabbed the prowler’s trailing arms and yanked him back into the room and away from Kit. “You’re not Daddy.”
The sisters’ dark, deceptively innocent eyes flashed as they squared off on either side of the threshold, the prowler lying bonelessly between them.
“And this ain’t a squirrel or a deer,” said Fancy. “This is a person.”
“No, this is a piece of shit who broke into our house.” Kit snatched up the prowler’s legs again and yanked him through the door, rucking his bloody shirt up to his chest. She blinked at the display of flesh. “Nice body, though.”
When Fancy had lain in bed thinking of how to punish the prowler for invading her space, never once had she considered taking him down into the cellar. Well, maybe she’d considered it, but it simply wasn’t an option.
She said, “You aim to get busted like Daddy did?”
Kit looked at Fancy as though she wanted to scoop her up and drop her into the nearest cradle. “Before Daddy went to jail, did he somehow make you the boss of me? Did Madda come home while we were asleep, shove us back up her womb, and then give birth to you first?”
“You know they didn’t.”
“Well, until they do, stop ordering me around! And in the meantime, why don’t you act like my sister and help me?”
Fancy wavered, but only for a moment, before she took the prowler by the arms, struggling with his weight as she helped Kit lug him from the house. Kit was elder, after all, and as hardheaded as a statue—once she set herself on a path, dynamite couldn’t blow her off it.
But a nuke might.
Fancy racked her brain for something nuclear as they crossed the backyard to the cellar, confident like every baby of the family that she would get her own way in the end.
The only section of Portero that could support a storm cellar like the one on the sisters’ property was the upsquare area with its red hills and sprawling forests—the rest of the town was too low and prone to flooding. The towering hardwoods that characterized not only Portero, but all of deep East Texas, dwarfed the sisters’ one-story house and blotted out much of the moonless sky. The light from their sleeping porch spilled into the yard and picked out the cellar doors angling up from the ground several feet away.
Madda had eradicated all traces of Daddy in the house, and the cellar where he had tortured and killed at least fifteen people held no physical trace of him either. The tiny, windowless gray room had nothing to do with the man the sisters had known, a man who’d taught them how to make kites and teepees, who had taken them fishing and mushroom-picking.
The sisters carried the prowler into the cellar and lashed him to the metal cot the way they’d read in the papers their father had done to so many others. Except for the cot and a tall metal shelving unit lined with boxes of nonperishable foods and supplies, the only item in the cellar was the kinetoscope, a pretty wooden device that seemed almost as out of place as the prowler.
Kit sat on the cot with him and gave him a slap to hurry him out of his stupor. “Wake up, Buttercup.”
His eyes fluttered open, blue and startled. He tried to jerk upright, but the rope restricted him.
“What’re you doing?” He looked around, disoriented.
“What is this place?”
“You mean you don’t know about Daddy?” said Kit, surprised. “About the room where he did everything? You’re in it. Don’t you feel special? You should, so take your shoes off and set a spell.” Kit laughed. “You’re gone be here awhile.”
The prowler looked like he wanted to laugh too, like he wanted to believe it was all a big joke, but then Kit flicked her gold switchblade and the laughter curdled.
“This is a mistake!”
“You got that right,” said Kit, smiling at him. “You picked the wrong house.”
“I just wanted some things! Just . . . Bonesaw Killer things. I wasn’t gone hurt y’all. I swear!”
“A few things for what?” asked Kit.
The prowler hesitated, shamed. “To sell online.”
“Craigslist or eBay?”
“It didn’t matter.”
“Don’t matter to me, either,” said Kit, as if revealing a secret.
“I figured I could make extra money for school, just—”
Kit touched the switchblade to the prowler’s mouth, silencing him. His mouth trembled beneath the press of the blade. “School’s out, Buttercup.”
Fancy moved closer to the cot. “Kit, listen—”
“What do you think?” Kit asked as she tapped the blade against the prowler’s mouth. “Throat? Heart? His eyes would be the obvious choice, but I want to look into ’em while he dies.”
“Why? Think you’ll see Daddy stamped in his corneas, giving you a thumbs-up?” Fancy regretted her sharp words when Kit looked at her with tears shivering in her eyes.
“Sounds good to me.”
And like that, Kit handed Fancy the nuke she’d been looking for. “If you wanna see Daddy, I’ll show you.”
For a long moment Kit simply stared at her sister, unable to speak, and when she did, her voice was unusually soft. “You said you couldn’t see him anymore.”
“I ain’t even tried,” Fancy admitted. “Not for a long time. But I will if you promise not to kill him.”
“You’d do that?”
Kit swung off the cot, her eyes shining as before, but not with tears—with excitement. “Try now!”
Fancy scanned the metal shelves but knew it was hopeless. “There ain’t anything in here to look through.”
Kit pushed Fancy in front of the small cherrywood box with a round lens on the front that sat atop a brass stand. It was what had passed for television about a hundred years ago—people would turn the crank and watch images unfurl through the lens. Daddy had fixed the kinetoscope but hadn’t been able to find the right kind of film or the crank that would make it work. But even though the machine was empty and crankless, it was still possible to see moving images inside of it.
It was for Fancy.
She had far-sight. That’s what Daddy called it, an ability to see what was happening in the next room or miles away. All she needed was something reflective to look at and she could see anything: She could even make up things. Like the happy place, a world she’d invented after Daddy had gone away, a world she needed. The real world had stopped being fun a long time ago.
“I only ever see the happy place in the kinetoscope,” Fancy protested, already sorry she’d offered. It hurt too much to think about Daddy. “I’ve never seen anything real in this thing.”
“You said you’d try.”
So Fancy tried.
She only had to think of what she wanted to see—real or imaginary—and she would see it. So she knew right away, when the lens of the kinetoscope remained black, that it wasn’t working, but she furrowed her brow and clenched her fists so that Kit would feel she’d at least—
A scream sent her whirling in time to see Kit’s gold switchblade slice across the prowler’s chest. A second slice crossed the first cut, forming a large red X.
“Don’t mind me,” she said cheerily. “Just keeping myself entertained.”
“You promised you wouldn’t kill him!”
“He look dead to you?” Kit pointed the dripping blade at the writhing, wild-eyed prowler. “Cuz he looks real spry to me. I’m just gone play with him until you bring Daddy up on the screen.” She drew back her switchblade, and Fancy quickly turned her gaze back to the kinetoscope. The happy place bloomed bright and large in the round lens, a mostly sepia-toned panorama straight out of Better Homes and Gardens. It did that sometimes without her having to think about it consciously.
The Headless Garden was in view on the screen, the area in the happy place she most liked to watch because it had the most calming effect on her. Fancy knew the place well, down to the sundial and the fountains, the animal topiaries and the carefully sculpted hedges.
At the very center of the garden stood a circle of headless, winsomely proportioned statues that gave the garden its name. Fancy loved looking at the statues, mostly because she could look at them as long as she wanted and they couldn’t look at her with disgust in their eyes or ask snide questions about Daddy and whether it was true that he ate all his victims.
But watching the statues wasn’t calming her. Because they were bleeding. Slashes appeared randomly on their golden skin as though from invisible whips, their blood a golden glitter that dusted the air like pollen, vibrant against the sepia landscape. The golden blood beckoned Fancy to run and play in it, to catch it on her tongue like snow.
Fancy jerked away from the screen, blinking, trying not to notice the whimpering mess on the cot and failing. “What?”
“I asked you if you want a turn.” Kit noticed the beige glow of the screen and rushed to the kinetoscope, beaming. “I told you to tell me when Daddy—” The hope in her face faded at the sight of the oddly bleeding statues. “Try again.”
But as soon as Fancy thought about Daddy, the screen went black.
“Damn it!” Kit kicked the bowed brass legs of the stand, nearly knocking the kinetoscope to the floor. She visibly reined herself in at Fancy’s disapproving look and took a deep breath. “Tell you what, why don’t you take this”—she held out the gory switchblade—“and put a few hash marks on Buttercup over there. That’ll help clear your mind.”
Fancy looked at the prowler, shirtless now and covered in myriad bleeding cuts. Some of them looked deep, possibly as deep as the one in his side. His blood wasn’t golden like the statues . . . yet still it glittered and beckoned in a similar way. She turned away from the knife and wiped her sweaty hands on the short legs of her romper. “You’ll have to stitch all those cuts,” she said, and her voice only shook a little.
“He’s gone bleed to death otherwise!”
“So? Death by a thousand cuts.” Kit looked at the blank kinetoscope screen, defeated. “You think Daddy ever killed anybody that way?”
Kit snatched the first-aid kit from the shelf and tossed it to Fancy, who almost fumbled it in surprise. “You stitch him up.”
Fancy opened the kit and noted the sutures and hooked needles, trying not to be excited at the thought of poking holes into the prowler’s skin. She kicked away the bloody rags of his shirt and knelt by the cot, but Kit followed her down.
“First things first.” She put the switchblade in Fancy’s hand and wrapped her own around it, insistent. “Not until you take a turn. It’s only fair. We do everything together.”
Fancy’s hands began to sweat again, the prowler spread out before her like an oddly iced pastry, begging to be sliced. “I don’t want to.”
Kit guided her sister’s hand; the knife slid teasingly down the underside of the prowler’s bare arm as he strained against the rope. He flinched from the touch of the blade so near his armpit, as though he were ticklish, even in his fright.
“We’re practically the same person,” Kit said, like a cartoon devil whispering enticements into Fancy’s ear. “You think I don’t know what you want?”
Fancy quickly nicked the prowler’s underarm, and just as quickly elbowed Kit away. “There, I did it. I’m done.” She freed her hand from the knife, from Kit, from temptation. “Now go get me some peroxide. I don’t see any on the shelf.”
Kit refused to be shooed. She stood and set her hands on her hips. “What did I tell you about ordering me?”
“I’m not ordering. I’m asking. Now go on!”
Kit blinked at Fancy’s tone, one she almost never heard. “Fine, spoilsport.”
As soon as the cellar doors closed behind Kit, the prowler went to work on Fancy. “Please,” he said, his voice ruined by tears and blood loss. “While she’s gone. Please let me go. I won’t say anything.”
Fancy kept silent, carefully threading one of the needles from the kit.
“I know you’re a good person. You didn’t let her kill me. I know you’re good. Please?”
Fancy looked him in his eyes until he stopped babbling and really focused on her, really saw her. When he was quiet, she said:
“Daddy’s locked up, so we never see him. Madda had to start working twelve-hour shifts to support us, so we never see her, either. If Kit kills you, they’ll lock her up too, and then I won’t have anybody. That’s the only reason you’re alive. Because if I thought I could do it and not get busted, I’d kill you myself.”
Fancy looked away from the prowler’s horrified stare and finished threading the needle.
“I’m the Bonesaw Killer’s daughter,” she whispered, almost to herself. “Why would you ever think I was good?”
© 2011 Dia Reeves