by Chris Bedell
I did something dangerous later in the evening, and followed Horatio through the woods.
It all started a few minutes earlier when I got this tingling sensation in my stomach that something was wrong. It wasn’t about overacting or arrogance. I had been right about Horatio every step of the way. Not that I wanted to be correct; I didn’t. Although a part of me wouldn’t deny the truth since that meant I wasn’t crazy.
I glanced out the window like every night before despite how this night was different, as Horatio didn’t have a shed to run to. I leaned in a little closer. Anybody staring at me might have thought my life depended on figuring out what Horatio was up to. I couldn’t be a 100 percent certain. It was dark out. But I could have sworn he was dragging a tarp across the ground.
Julian popped into my bedroom without making a thumping sound, proving he perfected the art of disappearing and reappearing. He didn’t make a noise this time. Wow. It must have been nice for him to have magic.
“Now’s your chance to catch Horatio. What are you waiting for, fool?” He had the same squeakiness to his voice he always had.
I crossed my arms. “You saved me from the shed fire, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did. You really need to learn to be more careful little girl.”
I shook my head. “Whatever. Anyway, are you going to come with me or what?”
“Negative, my dear. I already have prior engagements. You see, it’s the tenth of never.” Julian snapped his fingers, vanishing without another word.
It wouldn’t have killed him to offer a little reassurance. But it was neither here nor there since I didn’t have time to debate my craving for parental praise. It was another thing I learned to live without. Horatio didn’t dish it out, as I was lucky if he even said please or thank you.
I grabbed my red coat from the side of my bed, and put it over my body. It was time to take down Horatio once and for all.
Descending the staircase quickly was a mistake since I almost fell through the stairs. But that didn’t happen. Although I couldn’t even remember the last time I ever heard about someone falling through the stairs because that only happened in bad movies and T.V. shows when writers were at a loss of what to do.
I opened the front door before dashing down the front steps. Snow crashed to the ground while my focus shifted to the sky for a moment. Great! It was snowing, proving winter was beginning to seem a lot like Horatio since they were both unshakable.
Craning my head to the left made me realize Horatio wasn’t there. He must have been in the clearing on the other side of the woods. My shoes kicked into the ground before I took off while I didn’t even bother taking in a breath. Ignoring all the uneasy feelings, hooting owls, and other animal noises was necessary. It was time to be brave. I didn’t even have to believe my false courage. Having bravado was the only thing that mattered. Besides, if I believed something was true then maybe it would become real.
I clipped through the woods, attempting to pick up my pace, as the cold air punched me in the face a few times before trickling down into my lungs. Whatever. I still didn’t have time to take a breath, as I couldn’t lose focus on Horatio since the roles were reversed. And I was finally closing in on him.
The clearing in the woods stood out to me a few minutes later while I hid behind an oversized tree.
Horatio was in the middle of digging up dirt. My jaw trembled since he must have been in the process of disposing of Mrs. Roberts’s body. He drove the shovel into the ground a moment later, allowing it to stay in place before leaning down on his knees. And my heart thumped even louder every second I waited for him to yank off the tarp.
He pulled the tarp off, revealing Mrs. Roberts’s body.
Having my newest suspicions be true was unbelievable because just when things couldn’t get worse, they did. I tried to think back to something Mr. Tanner once told our class. It was something about how things had to get worse before they got better, which was logical enough even if it didn’t make life even easier.
Describing what Mrs. Roberts’ body looked like now was too cruel. It was something I wouldn’t even tell Chace, Steven, or Julian because I would take this secret to my grave. It was that decimated.
Horatio grabbed her by the legs, dragging her into the ditch he dug before reaching over to lift his shovel from the ground. The dirt piled on like a snowball rolling down a hill. The dirt wasn’t a big deal at first because it was just a little dirt. But that fact changed once Horatio finished burying Mrs. Roberts.
I placed my hand over my mouth, forcing myself to remain quiet.
Knowing how Horatio was always one step ahead of me would have been nice even if it should have been the last thing on my mind right now. I could understand how he had a sick mind. But it seemed like he never took a break. He was always plotting and scheming. It would make for a good novel someday. Just not today. I had to win my war against him.
There were two choices. Go back to my bedroom or confront Horatio.
I decided to do the stupid thing in the end and reveal myself to him by shuffling into the clearing. “What have you done?”
He turned around. “You should be in bed.”
“Are you kidding me? You killed the social worker and the biggest thing you’re worried about is my bedtime? Yeah, you have the right priorities.”
He licked his lips. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You must be confused. I was simply planning a treasure hunt for you and now you’ve ruined the whole thing.”
It was a typical Horatio move. The monster turned the tables on me since he just couldn’t take responsibility for his actions.
The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why he still kept me around. I mean, I was glad I was alive. But I didn’t get the purpose I served to him other than it would be too suspicious of both mother and daughter died within a year of each other.
My hair waved around in the wind, becoming ruffled. “You really don’t know when to stop, do you? First Mom, then the fire, now this? And don’t deny it. You have a tarp.”
He beamed his eyes at me. “I’d be careful. All it would take is one wrong move and then you’d end up in the ground just like Mrs. Roberts.”
Horatio had to be joking. He just threatened to kill and indirectly admitted to murdering Mrs. Roberts at the same time. His confession wouldn’t help me. I hadn’t recorded it and nobody else heard it. But it was still nice to stop dancing around the subtext. Yeah. I used a big word. And I could thank paying attention in English Class for that one.
The shovel fell from his hand. “I’m going to go back to bed. I suggest you do the same. Maybe I’ll even stop by and have my ear pressed against the door if you’re a good girl.”
Horatio slithered back through the woods without another word, leaving me to myself.
A crackling noise rolled through the air. “You’ve been a bad girl.”
Great. Time for another encore of Julian’s logical fallacies. Because I just so looked forward to them.
I turned around, facing Julian. “And what do you want?”
“You shouldn’t have confronted Horatio. Do you have any idea how stupid that was? He could have hurt you. I just wanted you to know the truth.”
Whatever. There were no pangs of regret rolling through my body. Julian was the one who mentioned the Mrs. Roberts situation and should have thought about the ramifications of his words. I didn’t have to be a genius to realize words had as much consequence as actual physical gestures.
A smirk twisted across my lips. “Careful. I might actually think you care.”
“I do care! I want to turn back into a human, and the sooner I help you win the better things are for me.”
Sucking in a breath was the only thing I could do. “If you say so.”
Julian did have a point. I flirted with danger way too much despite how I should have known better. But kids were supposed to make errors in judgment. It wasn’t like we were adults.
A part of me would never be used to his ears since I had to remember he wasn’t human, and it was natural for rabbits to have bigger ears.
“Do you know anything about the autopsy report?” I asked.
He swallowed the bit of carrot in his throat before opening his mouth. “Girls like you shouldn’t use the word autopsy.”
I shot him a dirty look. “That’s not important. The point is how did the medical examiner not say anything? Mom wasn’t under the direct care of a doctor. An autopsy would have had to be done.”
“And how do you know this?”
I huffed at him, not even bothering to hide my disdain. “I looked it up online.”
He tossed the rest of his carrot to the ground. “Clever girl.”
“What are you doing here? I thought you were busy? Also, why do you always waste a lot of your carrots?” My eyes bulged up. “You know what? Don’t tell me. Do you think Steven’s mom would know anything about the autopsy?”
He placed his index finger by his thumb, getting ready to snap those two fingers. “Yeah. That could work. If you’ll excuse me I have a very invigorating lecture I must get back to.”
Poof. Julian was gone.
Okay. If he had an invigorating lecture he had to get to, that was his business. I wouldn’t judge him even if it were code for something else. But on the other hand, Julian appeared to be the nonsensical type, and for all I knew, he did have an invigorating lecture to get to. I put the thought out of my mind, as Julian wasted enough of my time as it was with his whimsical demeanor.
I skipped school the following morning to meet up with Mrs. Daniels at the police station.
“What was so important you had to miss school?” She finished the bit of donut in her mouth, not even bothering to wipe the powdered sugar off her lips before reaching for her coffee.
“I met with your friend, the social worker. The visit went well. There’s only one problem. I think Horatio did something to her,” I said while sitting down in the chair in front of her desk.
She slid her coffee mug to the side. “And what would make you say that?”
Nice. Steven’s mom decided to see where the conversation was going. Because there was no doubt most adults would have given me a stern look if they heard what I said.
I gritted my teeth. “Mrs. Roberts was supposed to meet me in the park the other day. She said it was important even if she doesn’t normally do that.”
“Yeah. That does seem a little strange.” Her elbows pressed down against her desk, crawling upward. “That’s not really the protocol.”
“But you believe me, right? You know I’m not doing this for attention or anything?”
She raised her hand at me. “Stop it! I never want to hear you apologize again. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
It was kind of funny how I told Mrs. Daniels a half-truth since I was honest about the meeting going well and having an appointment to meet up with Mrs. Roberts. But that was as far as I went. I didn’t dare tell her where the body was buried. For all I knew, it could be another one of Horatio’s traps. He might have been setting me up to look crazy. And that was the last thing I needed. Having the support of my friends and Steven’s mom was good luck as it was. Not everyone could say that about dicey situations, as I watched the horror stories on the news about bad things that happened to children, which meant I wasn’t an idiot. Kids were by themselves most of the time no matter how many times they protested something was wrong.
“There’s something I wanted to ask you even if sounds morbid.”
She leaned in real close. Maybe she was impressed with how smart I was for my age. I could hope at least. “And what’s that?”
“Let’s just say for the sake of argument, I’m right, and he chopped off my mom’s head.” I tried blocking that image out of my mind. No such luck. I could never forget it. “Wouldn’t the medical examiner have said something?”
She nodded. “I could lose my job for telling you this. But I’ll tell you anyway since I consider you family. The autopsy said she died of natural causes pertaining to her cancer, which was kind of strange. Your mother didn’t even go to a doctor during the last year of her life.”
I scratched the side of my head. “Are you saying you think he bribed the medical examiner?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t investigated that. But I can tell you the medical examiner died in a skiing accident the following weekend after finishing the autopsy.”
Yeah. It was obvious. Something wasn’t right. And I just had to follow the trail a little more and I would be able to vanquish Horatio from my life.
Something rattled the door, making the two us turned ours heads. Goosebumps then formed on my arms. Great. Horatio now stood outside the door.