Lorna Quilton is walking away from her parent’s house holding an off white photo album trimmed in gold close to her chest. It’s a little frayed around the bottom edges and it smells like that furniture polish that her Mother likes to use- Lemon Plus- not that it actually smells like Lemons Plus anything. But Lorna finds it oddly comforting to find and latch onto the familiar and it soothes her nerves just a little, but not enough to keep the sweat from trickling down the back of her neck.
She thinks that if she finds a place to sit down and relax she can open the album again and she will not let herself panic like she did in the living room. Lorna is sure that she slammed the door a little to hard when she ran out of the house with the photo album clutched in her hands because she heard a bang and some shouting about the door but she could not stop-she had to get as far away from home as she could before someone asked her to explain herself.
She walked briskly, which was fine because the autumn air had a bite to it, all the way to Jack Cross Park which is right across the street from her high school.
It’s a shady park where the city’s water towers ( painted a soft shade of green to blend in with the trees and grass because sure, that will camouflage two 125 foot towers full of water ) that only has visitors on the hottest days of the year because it’s always wrapped in shadows.
The towers themselves are surrounded by white and pink rhododendron bushes and barbed wire topped fence- but never mind the barbed wire! Someone got the elementary school kids to paint bread loaf sized wooden fish bright and cheerful colors and they’re swimming on the chain link fence to take your mind off the chunks of razors just over your head.
Lorna goes to the benches at the back of the Park and she takes a seat on a bench and she looks up, takes a breath and opens the photo album on her lap.
On the first page are pictures of her very pregnant Mom standing next to a Christmas tree. She’s smiling and she looks a little sad, but that’s probably because her feet hurt. She told Lorna once how much she hated it when her feet swelled up and how ugly they were and how her Dad wouldn’t even look at them because they grossed him out.
Then there’s a birth announcement for Mary- it had little birds and butterflies all over it and they were bearing the glad news stamped on a silken banner that baby Mary was a long and chubby baby, just like Lorna had been.
Lorna takes a breath, holds it and lets it out slowly.
She turns the page and her sister is a toddler, she’s learning to ride a bike, in other’s she’s playing with the family dog. As the pages flip by slowly- because Lorna is forcing herself to turn them slowly, there are family pictures of vacations, Christmases, Mom’s new car, birthday parties, class pictures, and then towards the end there are wedding pictures and Mary is a bridesmaid in some and towards the end she is a bride herself.
Lorna is proud of herself. She did it.
She looked at pictures of her Sister without throwing the album down and running from it because
until about a half hour ago Lorna would have sworn she didn’t have a sister- but the was there courtesy of Kodak film.
She has a sister named Mary Quilton and they grew up in the same house and had the same parents but Lorna doesn’t remember her.
It wasn’t that she just didn’t remember her- it’s not like she looked at that Thanksgiving picture where her Mom was wearing the sweater Lorna had given her for her birthday and saw Mary seated next to her Dad with her finger up her nose and something familiar popped out.
Tthere is an absence of feeling about the picture, the people in it feel like strangers, like interlopers.
Lorna guessed her Uncle Mert took the picture because he thought it would be funny to capture that moment forever. He loved to catch people doing silly or gross stuff on film.
That little tidbit did nothing to take away from her anxiety because she should have remembered that moment. The minute the flash went off and Mary was immortalized forever with her finger up her nose, her Mother would have had a kittens.
It was almost time to start setting up for their Halloween party, Lorna should be there helping her Mother and their friends. But what was going to happen when she showed up and her sister Mary showed up an and Mary asked something like ” How have you been?” because she guessed Mary would know her.
And Lorna would only be able to say, ” Pretty good. So. Who the Hell are you?
Lorna could see Mary sprouting horns, she could hear her skin crackle and split and turn red and Devil Mary would say, ” Hell indeed.”
Lorna closed the photo album and stood up.
Well, she had a hard time convincing herself that scenario was less crazy then the situation she was in right now.
The five minute walk home felt like it only took seconds because Lorna did not want to be here- she did not want to walk into that house and face a Sister who had been living under the same roof with her and she had no memory of her. Not a single one.
People were showing up with bags and boxes and plastic containers- Lorna guessed they were helping set up for the party and on the way up to the house she saw a slightly older version of the man Mary was standing next to in one her wedding pictures at the curb shutting a his car door. He reached up on the roof for a tote bag full of streamers and when he turned around Lorna was standing next to him.
She looked into his face and for just a second she thought he recognized her, maybe he knew her and that terrified her.
Then the look was gone and Lorna took a breath.
” Hey. Hi. Here for the party? You’re early so you must be here to help set up.”
Lorna nodded and she looked towards the house. ” I’m here to help my Parents.”
” Oh yeah? And who are they? ”
” Marie and Harold Quilton. I’m Lorna.”
The man from Mary’s wedding picture does not look happy. ” Look, know it’s Halloween, but whatever you’re doing here, it’s not funny. Go on, get out of here before my wife and her parents show up. I mean it. Get lost.”
Lorna is still holding the photo album next to her chest and she lets it fall from her hands to the ground. Her face is a smooth mask without a single trace of emotion, but her eyes-
they are as dark as a basement in an abandoned and lifeless house and Guillermo steps back from her and bumps into his car.
Lorna’s panic reaches epic proportions, she is ready to scream, to cry to run but then it’s gone and the thoughts she does know push themselves to the front of the line and knows for certain:
she can’t remember Mary, she can’t remember getting her drivers license or graduating from high school or what she did the day after she was running across the street to catch her bus on the last day of school.
But she does know one thing right now.
” I’m here to help my parents.”
” With what? ” Guillermo asks hoping that she will not answer.
She does not.
Guillermo leans down to pick up the photo album because he has to do something and when he straightens back up with the album in his hands, the teenage girl pretending to be his Wife’s sister who died before she was born is gone.
Marie Lourdes Quilton 65 and Harold Quilton 68
of Mountain View died October 31, 2019 in a traffic accident.
Maybe, sixteen year old Thomas Gilder thought when his heart slowed down enough for him to think clearly, if I just relax and close my eyes I can figure how I got here and how I can get out because if I got into this I can get out too- that’s logical, or science or something like that right?
His hands, were clammy and sweaty and cold and they grasped the smooth arms of the chair with less force then he realized because he was very close to passing out. He bit his lips to keep from calling for his Mother. She’d be so disappointed in him if she knew where he was. He could not- would not do that to her. He would not call for her like he did when he was a little kid waking up terrified from a nightmare.
At least not right now.
Thomas turned his head and looked at the little window with the pale blue curtain drawn across it that was to his left
and he wondered why the room was painted pale green and why it didn’t really match the curtains in the window and why
he was sitting in this electric chair and how long it was going to be before the Executioner realized he was here .
Thomas looked up at the clock and watched the second hand crawl from one number to the next- not that he could read the clock. Most kids his age can’t but it gave him something to think about and when his thoughts got back on the Tommy Gilder train he made himself remember the walk down here, the instructions, and the RULES.
Maybe that was the key. If he could remember the short walk that brought him here maybe he could avoid the long walk ahead.
What ever he came up with, he had to snap himself out of this nightmare before the face appeared in the little window and saw him.
It was all over for him at that point, wasn’t it? Or maybe it really ended for him when he decided to heck with it and decided to not follow the RULES.
Thomas wasn’t bad kid, well- he knew if he had made a few better life choices he wouldn’t be here waiting for that curtain to be moved to the side and for Hell to rain down on him.
There had to be something he could do, maybe say he was sorry and that he’d never screw off and he’d promise on a stack of bibles to follow THE RULES but before he could put his thoughts into order and choose one of those flimsy options his out of control brain had come up with, the curtain in the small window opened and then the face of the Executioner appeared and it was indeed the face of his doom and a painful molten rain of words did indeed fall down upon him.
” Son of a bitch! Take your kid to work day. What can go wrong they said. You only work for the State. None of the dumbasses that nagged me to do this asked me what I do for the state.”
She took a breath which meant she was nowhere near finished yelling.
“What did I tell you about wandering off? This isn’t a playground. I work here. I told you what the RULES were. So tell me. How the Hell did you get in there?
Chin to his chest, Thomas held up his Mothers keycard.
” Forget asking me for the car or for the password to WiFi at home which I am changing and NEVER going to give you. Forget ever hoping that I will forget this stunt. Get over to the door NOW.”
Thomas got up from the electric chair, he bowed his head and he walked slowly to the door.
When the door opened and he saw the Executioner- (or as she was known at home ” Mom” ) standing there with how miserable his fate was going to be written all over hear face, he knew his punishment would indeed be a fate worse then death.