Copyright 2017 Sue Perry.
Published by Sue Perry at Shakespir.
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Book 1 Table of Contents
DD – They’re always snooping on my phone to check who did I text, where do I go online. So this diary will be pen on paper. Every day a separate page. Every page I’ll hide somewhere different. If they find a page it will just seem like a page, not part of a diary. When I put DD that means Dear Diary. When I put sE that means signed, Ella. I won’t forget but in case I forget this is my plan so far.
Maybe I can bury some pages in the empty lot next to the strip mall they never finished expanding. Other ideas for hiding places? Inside boxes of my parents’ stuff that they let me store in the garage. In pockets of clothes I’m not allowed to wear. Behind the loose shelf in my school locker. Between pages of books – because no one reads except me. Books are for decoration, I guess. Books in living room, in other prisoners’ bedrooms, at their church, at the counselor. Can’t hide anything in my books, though. Those could be confiscated at any time.
Really I could hide the D in so many places because people hardly notice anything unless it’s on a screen. I don’t have to hide the pages, I could rip and flush after I write. But then DD wouldn’t be a secret document, it would be a hobby. – sE
DD – It’s for my own good. Someday I’ll understand. Given the circumstances, my behavior is to be expected. They can all go Tupac themselves.
Back–to–school night and the wardens insisted that we go. I had to wear a dress and a hair style so none of my teachers even recognized me. Not that they know who I am, anyway. Or care except in a pity=superior way. I’m just another occupier of desk space who will bring down their test statistics.
Lots of talking in hushed tones about my recent tragedy. Only good thing about that is it’s a buy–out for homework that I don’t feel like doing, But I can’t overdo the depressed orphan stuff or they’ll be pushing me to take more meds, and see the counselor more days, which is total Eminem.
There is one cool guy, I think his name is Paul. He is in two of my classes. He was there tonight with a man and a woman who didn’t act like parents or wardens. Interesting! I need to find out more. – sE
DD – Danger new rules and restrictions ahead. On the way to school this morning, the wardens said they noticed I was spending a lot of time out at the accident site and was that good for my recovery and they were there for me and don’t I want to talk about it. I explained about changing the flowers at the site, which is what I legitimately do, but only once a week. I stayed all sweet and polite and thanked them for caring and I did it all without barfing. From now on I’ll have to go to the site from the back way so they don’t see me.
It’s not to change the flowers, it’s not to brood about death. That isn’t why I’ve been going to the accident site every day. I go to see that cat, the weird wild one that runs up the tree when I cross to its side of the street. He makes eye contact, like we’ve known each other a long time. He has great camouflage, black and gray stripes like shadows at sunset. That cat is always hiding. I can relate! I know when he’s around because before I see him, I hear whispers. I guess the cat is hissing. – sE
DD – The headaches are getting worse. I know a skull can’t rip but that’s what it feels like. My head ripping open from the inside. It rips and rips again. By the time the pain stops, the world is distorted. That part is cool, the way everything looks, but I’d rather get distortion from a pill. No duh. Wait, gee, I changed my mind, throw away the pill, bring me more pain.
One good thing about a D is it never asks me am I kidding.
After my skull rips it’s like I’m looking at stuff through a gray cloth. I think I’m seeing black white gray, now I notice the reds. All the colors are still there but muted, shifted. Edges so sharp, contrasts so high, they make me squint. My senses get so intense. I swallow some breeze and taste what the neighbors are cooking for dinner. A leaf brushes a branch and the noise is so loud it makes me jump.
Maybe the headaches are from allergies. Pollen. From the trees beside the road by the crash site. That’s where the cat hangs out. He’s up there now in the tallest tree, staring at me staring at him. – sE
DD – That one guy. I noticed him my first day at the new school. He’s friendly with kids in different tribes, which is weird. He doesn’t dress like anybody, hang with anybody, but everybody accepts him. He talks to teachers like they’re just people. He’s got eyes so dark I can’t see his pupils. Or do I only see pupils, dilated? I don’t think so – he never acts high. He’s got this expression like everything is a joke and he gets the joke.
Apparently the school thought it would help me fit in if they told everybody about the terrible tragedy this young girl has suffered. That’s probably a quote from some news story I avoided. After that, everybody acted like I was contagious, like they could catch a car crash that flattens your family. Or worse, I might cry in front of them.
He was the only one who came up to me. He said, “Take it or leave it however works for you. Anyway, that’s how I proceed. Thank you.” He said thanks because I held the door for him going into English. We have two periods the same and sometimes we look at each other during class.
I was getting ready to really talk to him soon but today the principal came into Algebra with two men in t–shirts who moved like police. The principal said stuff to the teacher and the teacher tried to say no but they led him away. Paul looked at me before he went out the door. Paul Trigg. That’s his name. – sE
DD – After class, when it was just the Algebra teacher and me, I asked her what happened to PaulTrigg. Let me digress to note that I don’t know any other ‘Paul’ so I don’t have to use his whole name except I do because he isn’t a Paul. Which makes him PaulTrigg. She said, “I never heard your voice before, Ella, you have a beautiful contralto.” Finally, she acknowledged my question. “I’m sure you can understand that I can’t discuss other students.”
She’s not like other grownups and I could tell she wanted to answer me. Maybe there was an open sesame, a question she could justify answering. I only had one chance to ask a question because I had to get going. P.E. was next and Coach is a maximum Kanye and when I’m late I get detention. And when I get detention I get grounded. So I asked, will PaulTrigg be back tomorrow? And the way she said, “oh, no, he won’t be,” it sounded like he’ll never be back.
At lunch I went around to all the kids I’ve ever seen PaulTrigg talk to, and asked them did they know what happened. After a while it felt like some endless loop dream where I repeat a scene and only people’s clothes change. Every conversation started with surprise and confusion that I was talking to them and knew PaulTrigg. Nobody knew that anything happened to him and they liked having that tasty bit of news to munch during our bland lunch on this closed campus.
I might talk to some of them again, the ones who seemed to care what did happen to PaulTrigg. – sE
DD – What do you call a suburb that has no city nearby? That’s not a riddle, it’s where I live. In a sub. According to the on–line directories, there are 5 Triggs in the greater sub area. How is that possible, how are there 5 Triggs anywhere? But none of them within walking distance. Ma Warden was changing a diaper on the newest prisoner so couldn’t search my face knowingly when I told her that they were right and exercise would help so I was borrowing her bike and yes–of–course her helmet.
I didn’t make it to a single Trigg address. Thanks, bike tire. I got stranded in an area with no gas stations or sporting good stores for air pumps. It was an older sub, old enough that I got excited, walking the bike past apartment buildings so faded and rickety I bet they were 50 years old. I didn’t realize the sub went that old. I’ll have to go back there some time when I won’t get in trouble for missing dinner.
See, I have this fantasy that any old building could have a secret passageway, even an apartment building called The Vista Sunrise. Possibly the worst thing about my sub – so many worsts from which to choose – is that the buildings are too new for secrets. For magic.
Walking with a crippled bike T:A:K:E:S F:O:R:E:V:E:R. – sE
DD – I’m scared. After dinner Pa Warden helped me fix the bike tire and, even nicer of him, he didn’t insist on going for a ride with me. I took the bike out again to check at least one Trigg address before dark. I have to find out, is PaulTrigg okay.
I stopped by the trees beside the accident site but couldn’t find the feral cat anywhere. Getting back on the bike, all of a sudden my brain was a bomb exploding. The last thing I remember was the handlebars zooming at my face as I fell onto the bike.
The next thing I know I’m back in my room with scratches on my face and chest and smeared with bike grease and I’m holding a new diary page. Not this one. It’s another page and the writing is scraggly like when I write with a pen between my toes. I can barely read it. Here is what I think it says:
WATCH WAIT SMALL BIRD HOP CLOSER. MY TWO–LEGS COMES ON ROUND LEGS. I GO WITH HER. ROCKS SWALLOW SUN THE
It looks interrupted, there’s a line at the end like the writer was startled. Did I black out? How did I get back to my room and past the wardens without interrogation? Why did I write that? What the Tupac is wrong with me?
Now I need to find PaulTrigg for a new reason. He seems like someone I could talk to about going crazy, without getting heavy meds shoved down my throat. – sE
DD – I found a Trigg house where PaulTrigg must live. It’s strange and awesome like he is. Looking at it made me excited and nervous, same as seeing him. The house is in a complex where houses have a little land and people line their properties with hedges and trees. The neighborhood feels less tamed than here but not wild, so the street names out there are ridiculous. Primeval Glade Court. But the Trigg house deserves to sit on its street, Wild Hollow Lane. On the bottom floor it’s the same boxy house as everybody else’s, but the corners and edges have extra rooms that stick out and up in no pattern, connected by ramps and walkways and elevated patios. I’ve never seen a house like that. I couldn’t even decide how many stories it is, there are so many different levels.
I followed the winding walkway but I don’t think I reached the front door. Another bomb explosion headache knocked me down – I think. Anyway I scraped both knees, they stung with fresh blood, that’s how I noticed the scrapes. I don’t remember falling or leaving. The next thing I knew I was riding the bike, winded like I just rode really fast for a long time.
I couldn’t remember where I’d been or figure out where I was. It was almost dark so I missed dinner and I had to get back or I’d be in even bigger trouble. Which direction was back? I pedaled slowly until I recognized where I was. Coming up on the accident site. I paused to finish my water and I looked for the cat. There, behind a bush. We made eye contact, which always makes me feel better. And I remembered going to the Trigg house.
Tomorrow I’ll go back to the house. If it exists. I hope I didn’t imagine the whole thing. – sE
DD – Grounded through the weekend for missing dinner without phoning. No internet privileges because I lied and wouldn’t tell the wardens why I was late getting back. Guess this confirms they don’t know I have a D, or they’d work that into the punishment – confiscate all paper that isn’t homework. If they took away all my paper I could write D entries in school essays. The first word of every line would have a double meaning as a D entry. That would be so hard to do!
Admittedly, I could have explained more about what I was doing before the blackout or whatever those headaches are. I mean, what I imagined I was doing – a part of me thinks the Trigg house could be imaginary. Did I really go there? The suspense is killing me. Tune in next week when Ella pedals back out to nowhere to find out, did her fevered brain imagine that strange Trigg house.
I didn’t tell the wardens much about my afternoon but I didn’t lie. I actually don’t know why I was late or where I was when I was missing dinner.
Grownups are such hypocrites. The wardens are always whispering behind my back then saying ‘nothing, we weren’t talking about you’ when obviously they were. My parents were the same way, total double standards. My dad was allowed to swear but I couldn’t. My mom got fired for missing too many days from work (yes mom I knew about it) but I’d get so much Eminem when I skipped even one class.
I’m a grownup in training. A hypocrite too. Now that my parents are gone, I want to mind them. I made up my own swear words so nobody can be offended or be sure when I’m cussing. And now I never miss class. I might get an award for perfect school attendance this year and accept it with all due sarcasm. – sE
DD – Everything went wrong in English class today. My essay on MOBY DICK was out on the desk, perfectly printed for an A. Teach doesn’t care about the quality of our thinking, just our typing. I zipped my backpack on the floor and when I straightened my head exploded with one of those headaches. The next thing I knew, Teach was finishing the lesson, I had zero percent of the in–class worksheet done, and scratched sideways across the top page of my essay was more weird scrabbly writing.
NOT THAT HOUSE
Huh? No clue.
I needed to erase the message on my essay but first I wanted a photo – the scrabbly messages seem really important and I wanted to study this one when I could.
I slipped my hand into my pocket to sneak my phone out but remembered the wardens took my phone when they grounded me. I pantomimed to the girl next to me, please your phone. She saw how upset I was so agreed. With her phone, I took a photo of the scrabbly writing and emailed it to myself. She watched, super nervous, and as I slipped the phone back to her, her worst fears were realized. Teach confiscated her phone until Friday. Obviously my apology was useless to her.
I got detention for trying to convince Teach it was my fault about the phone. To make it a perfect experience, I got an F on the worksheet and when I erased the pencil from my essay, the typing smeared. If the essay gets a C, I’ll be lucky. – sE
DD – Tupac. Today was my next Hurt Locker sequel. Meaning, Barracuda drove me to Cruella de Ville. Meaning, thanks to the car accident I have a social worker and a psychiatrist. The social worker tries to bond by playing music and “Barracuda” is her favorite song because women led the band that sang it. Cruella is the shrink. She tries to trick me into saying stuff to use against me.
When I make small mistakes (boom), they tell the wardens to watch me for signs of whatever. As if they could watch more closely! When I make big mistakes (BOOM), I have to see Cruella more often or take more meds. Technically I take no meds but that’s because I flush them. If they suspected that, they’d do daily x–rays to count the pills in my stomach.
Perfect end to a perfect week. When I got back from school there was Barracuda’s car. Barracuda and Ma Warden were in the driveway whispering. About me, as usual.
“How goes it?” Barracuda asked as we buckled our seat belts.
A trick question – she already knew everything Ma Warden knew. I pretended to confide, “Bad. I stopped by the accident site and got home late and got grounded. They took my phone. I borrowed one from a new friend and it got confiscated and now she’s mad.” You don’t have to bend the truth much to really change the picture.
“You’ll get the friendship back on track,” Barracuda sympathized.
I sighed. She expects me to sound pitiful. It’s insulting.
Cruella is dangerous when she decides I’m not showing normal grief patterns. Fortunately, it’s easier to Eminem her now that I researched grief patterns at the library. But today she asked me something I wasn’t ready for. “Have you had recent experiences that you would classify as unusual?”
If the wardens found my D pages! No. They wouldn’t be able to keep it secret from me if they found something incriminating. I disguised my shock as confusion. “No? Like what? Can you give an example?”
“I don’t want to color your experience with anecdotes. Just know, Ella, that four months after a loss like yours, perceptions get distorted. That’s part of the normal grieving process. Some individuals experience hallucinations.”
“Wow, scary, thank you for warning me.” Our sessions have pauses where I guess she believes I’m thinking things over. Actually I’m counting seconds and by my count this session was over.
“You have a strong support network, Ella, and we’re here for you any time.”
She watched me closely but she didn’t demand extra sessions or prescribe new meds.
As you know, D, I’ve been worried about what is happening with the headaches and all, but now that Cruella tells me I’m imagining things, I know. It’s all real. Strange but real. – sE
DD – Grounded phoneless no internet. I lay on my bed watching the ceiling get too dark to see. Friday night so no way would I do homework. I fantasized about running away and was surprised to realize this was the first time this week. Before, the fantasies came non–stop. This week stuff distracted me. You, D. The cat. PaulTrigg. The scrabbly writing. And of course the headaches. My headaches. Headaches can’t be imaginary.
I have so many plans to flee. I know every bus and train, schedule and fare. I’ve had years of practice hiding lunch money to save undetected funds. Yes, D, I said years. It wasn’t just these wardens I wanted to escape.
Lying in my bed, I squinted at the ceiling and tried to bring on one of the headaches but nothing.
One of the many worst things about my parents being dead is when I feel relief to not be fighting with them anymore. What I wore, who I liked, how I spent my time, when I did chores, what I said. Everything about me disappointed them. A part of me knows they loved me and that’s the part that hurts so much every Tupac day now.
Something scritched on the window glass and there was the feral cat, on the roof outside my room! I jumped out of bed and the cat darted away. I left the window open and lay on the bed in the dark, waiting for him to come back.
When the sun woke me up, my room was full of bugs. No sign the cat had entered, but still! He must have followed me from the accident site. Maybe someday he’ll let me touch him. – sE
DD – My headaches are different kinds, the explosion and the ripping apart. They have only one thing in common – they hurt like Tupac Eminem. This morning I was behind the house, sitting on the swing on the back tree (that’s as far away as I can go when I’m grounded) and my head ripped apart.
… I drop to the weeds and can only move my eyes, slowly, or I’ll get dizzy. The rose bush has white blooms but right now they look gray. Every color has muted. The sky is the color of fog. Ants scrape bark as they flow up the tree trunk, carrying the carcass of a worm that smells like the burger I forgot in the back of the car. Over on the rose bush, dew flashes, drawing my attention to a grasshopper who shoves between the leaves. I jump up and swat at the grasshopper, stab my fingertips on thorns. The grasshopper hops to the fence. It takes all my will to not chase it, to not bodyslam the fence…
I’m on the ground but also on the swing. I close my eyes against all the flickering edges of things. The air howls past my ears but as I keep swinging, the wind fades…
I dare to unsquint my eyes and find the colors are bright again. Back to normal.
These headaches and the changes in me. I’ve been fighting the truth – avoiding what it all means. This morning I let myself finish my thought and I stopped feeling scared. What I think is happening. I’ve gone a special kind of crazy, developed a split personality. And my other personality is a cat, not a person. – sE
DD – I was laying in bed counting minutes until school on Monday because that’s when being grounded ends. I plotted a runaway plan. If I went to first period then snuck out, it could be hours before anyone noticed I was missing. By that time I could be on the 10:27 bus. I could probably make the bus if I first biked to the Trigg house to see did I imagine it.
… The ceiling goes bright and my head rips apart. My nose fills with the smell of dirt. Leaves slide past me, the ground glides underneath. At the end of the leaves I stop. I won’t cross open ground. Beyond is the Trigg house, from a direction I didn’t see before. A patio nestles between rooms. In a chair with binder and book open – PaulTrigg! He seems to be doing schoolwork so maybe he’s not gone from school forever. His left arm is in a sling.
I want to go to him and I push through the leaves. The air gets bright and sun warmth hits my back. Behind PaulTrigg, light flashes on glass and I freeze. A French door opens behind Paul and a woman walks out of the house. I back up. The air gets cool and dark and leaves block my view.
It’s the woman I saw at back–to–school night. She touches Paul’s shoulder. She has his straight dark hair and long bones. She stands like a queen. Elegant. I’ve never seen anybody who deserves that word, until now.
… The woman looks over like she can see me hidden in this bush. I feel her words but her mouth is closed. ‘Welcome, friend.’ A man exits the house, the man from back–to–school night. PaulTrigg hunches his shoulders away from the man and I back up. I sense the man looking my way but leaves block my view now. I don’t want that man to see me …
Just as suddenly, I was aware of being in bed. The headache was gone.
On Monday when I’m not grounded anymore, I’ll go to the Trigg house and I’ll walk all around it and if that patio exists, hidden from the street, that means that somehow I didn’t imagine it, I was actually there in that bush while lying in bed. That means I’m something good. Not crazy with a split personality. Something. Else. – sE
DD – I was getting ready for bed and I found myself sitting on the floor with a piece of paper beside me. It was covered with scrabbly writing.
MY TWO–LEGS STANDS TALL AND HER PAWS GRAB BUT SHE IS NOT A HUNTER. SHE MOVES SLOWER THAN A BROKEN LIZARD AND HER EYES MISS WHAT SHE SEES. SHE EATS PLANTS. SHE MOVES TO DANGER LIKE BABY PREY. SHE TRUSTS SOME OTHER ONES.
I GET KNOWING FROM HER. SHE TEACHES ME TWO–LEGS LIFE. THE HARD AIR IS A THING CALLED GLASS AND SHE CAN MOVE GLASS. WHEN SHE HEARS THE NOISES OF HER KIND I UNDERSTAND SOME. SHE SEES THE OTHER ONES BUT NOT THEIR NATURE.
MY TWO–LEGS WILL NOT HURT ME. I WILL NOT HURT HER.
I was positive that the scrabbly writing was from the cat, the feral cat. My stomach got fluttery and my ears buzzed and I recognized a strange feeling. I felt happy.
I lay in bed watching the window, which I left open again. The room was dark and promising. Come the next morning I wouldn’t be grounded anymore. I swore to myself that I would do my best to obey/cooperate so I could keep my freedom. Freedom to go to the cat. And the Trigg house.
I didn’t need light to see the scrabbly words, I had read them so many times that I saw them all in my head.
The cat and I – communicated. Which was better than finding a secret passageway. The moonlight moved across the window sill and I lay still, waiting for whatever was going to happen next. – sE
DD – PaulTrigg was at school today. Our Algebra teacher arrived on campus at the same time and seemed surprised to see him. They talked in quiet voices as they came up the steps where I sat. Sometimes I can read lips, but not when they’re murmuring. PaulTrigg nodded at me and I nodded back and I vowed the day would not end without us talking.
Outside classes, he was surrounded. Everybody was super curious about what happened to him, acted disappointed at his explanation. By the end of lunch, I didn’t care about being a stalker and I lurked nearby when people asked where he’d been. His arm sling was the centerpiece of his story, which sounded bogus.
After lunch he headed for Algebra alone, just ahead of me. “Hey Paul,” I called like I always used his name. I had practiced conversation openers but my mouth said, “what does the arm sling have to do with cops taking you out of class last week?”
“Hi, Ella,” is all he replied. The last bell rang, giving us 30 seconds to get in our seats without penalty. He reached for the door and asked, “Can you come to dinner some night?”
“Sure. Definitely,” I said, with no clue how I’d get permission to do it.
“My aunt says, any night at 6. You know where we live.” He opened the door wide and we went in.
My checks felt hot throughout Algebra – he knew I’d been to his house. Only later did I register the last thing he said. “We always eat on that patio.” Not patio or patio. patio. Like he knew I saw the patio. Which I only saw on my imaginary visit to his house, when I watched from inside the bushes while on my bed.
Now I’ve really got some things to discuss with him! – sE
DD – No hope. I have no hope of getting to the Trigg house at 6 o’clock any night. That is dinner time here. At 6, I have to be here or on my way back with a great excuse for why I am late. Tomorrow at school I could ask PaulTrigg can I come later or earlier. For tea or dessert. But that’s so lame I know I won’t do it.
The whole thing is so weird anyway. Why am I invited? How did he know I’d been there? I can ask the questions but let’s be realistic, the answers wouldn’t change my mind. I want to go, period, the end.
Eminem. Maybe I talked to PaulTrigg during my blackout, the day I rode the bike out there. The last thing I remember, I was walking up to his front door. Maybe I got invited inside that day, maybe they’re asking me back for a second visit. How the Queen Latifah will I know? I can’t ask them have they ever met me before. Wait, that’s it, that’s how I’ll know. If I’ve been there before and met them before, PaulTrigg won’t introduce me to everybody.
Like I’ll ever get to go.
I have to figure out a way. I might just go and get grounded for it. But I don’t want the wardens to know about PaulTrigg. – sE
DD – It’s already bedtime and lights out so if I hear the wardens coming I’ll have to finish tomorrow. You can wait, right? Sometimes I worry that I bore you and next I worry, what kind of person worries about boring a D.
Today had to be enchanted, that’s the only explanation. PaulTrigg comes back to school and he asks me to dinner. That’s magic right there. No way can I sneak away to his house but then. Miracle.
About 5 o’clock the wardens pounded on my door while they were opening it, which is how they try to catch me doing … whatever they think I am doing in my room. They announced that they were taking the other inmates to Timothy’s back–to–school night. They were leaving me here and when they got back they expected to find dishes washed and me ready for bed. They ran through the long list of what I wasn’t allowed to do while I was alone here, so I had time to plan and the instant the car left the driveway, I got moving. Turned on TV, changed the channel, threw the remote and a dirty plate on the couch, so it looked like I spent time there. I did the rest of the dishes super fast, washed combed dressed and pedaled the bike out to the Trigg house. I made it on time, with a few minutes to cool off before I knocked.
PaulTrigg opened the door and in the entrance hall he introduced me to his aunt and his cousin, the other people on the patio during my fantasy visit. Since he introduced us, I guess that means I didn’t meet them before, during my blackout.
Just walking through the Trigg house, I could see that the inside is more strange and amazing than the outside. Lots of open space, every window has a window seat. Carved wood furniture and bannisters were like totem poles and temples in travel adventure shows.
I was nervous and so was PaulTrigg, but his aunt was so calm and friendly she chilled us both. They took me out to sit on the patio and that’s when things got weird. All of a sudden leaves blocked my view but — more later – sE
DD – Couldn’t sleep this morning, too much to remember and wonder about, so here I am ready for school an hour before my alarm goes off. Just chased tons of bugs outside, kept the window open for the cat again. Don’t know why. He has never come in, he always runs when I try to get near him, and last night I think I wrecked my connection with him.
Last night, as soon as I sat down on the Trigg patio, PaulTrigg went inside to get drinks and his aunt and cousin started messing with an awning. Suddenly I’m sitting there but also –
… running through the woods behind the house and leaves are zooming past my eyes. The leaves end and grass brushes my cheeks and on the other side of the open grassy area is the patio with a girl pressing her hands to her forehead …
I was seeing myself! Too weird! I didn’t mean to, but I yelled “Stop!” Immediately, the view snapped and I was only seeing the patio table. The cat was gone, out of my head.
When I yelled, the aunt and the cousin left the awning and came over to make sure was I okay. The cousin looked out across the grassy area to where the feral cat trotted toward us. It kept coming and I thought it would jump on the patio wall but at the last moment it ran around the corner of the house. The cousin made a noise that sounded angry and the aunt told him, “Let it evolve.”
The cousin let it go when PaulTrigg came out with homemade herbal ice tea like I’ve never tasted before.
I don’t like Paul’s cousin. He seems — mean.
Eminem, there’s my alarm, have to go wake the other inmates now. – sE
DD – Dinner at the Trigg house started pretty cool, awkward but not too bad because nobody treated me like The Guest. We went inside to bring dinner out to the patio. There was a huge grill in the kitchen. And a ladder to a loft. I asked what was up there and the aunt said, “A cozy spot on a cold day, take a peek.”
I climbed halfway. The loft was full of cushions and windows and had a door to another room with a carved staircase to yet another level. “I’d really like a tour of your house,” I said.
“Another time might be better for that,” the aunt said, in a way I didn’t feel embarrassed by the refusal. She handed me four plates to take to the patio, heavy pottery, each different. PaulTrigg carried a huge salad. The aunt had cold fish in a white sauce. The cousin stayed inside at the grill and came out with sizzling slices of bloody meat. It seemed to amuse him to give me the biggest slice. The only good thing about what happened was that it saved me from having to eat any bloody meat.
The feral cat leaped over the patio wall onto the cousin’s arm, giving him a long deep scratch. The cat ran under the table and the cousin hurled the table aside, which sent our food crashing. The cousin froze in some martial arts position. Blood all over his arm and he never even said ‘Ow’. The cat zoomed through my legs back over the wall. The cousin blotted a napkin against his arm and glared out at the woods.
“We’ll need to conclude our evening early, as you must understand,” the aunt said. The cousin looked at me like I brought the cat, which maybe I did.
PaulTrigg walked me out and at my bike he said his only words of the dinner, “Thanks for taking the chance. See you at school.”
How weird can things get? – sE
DD – I was late for school today because I went to the accident site to look for the cat. No cat, but I swapped out the flowers at the homemade shrine and that gave me an alibi so no detention for being late. The attendance secretary gave me a poor little thing look but she felt worse about the crash than I did right then. I only let those feelings out when I have to. Eminem, if I couldn’t do that …
PaulTrigg waited for me before Algebra, outside the door, and said, “I’m going to ask you over again but I can’t for now because my family left on a trip and I can’t have anyone over when they’re gone.” He looked over my shoulder and said louder, “What’d you get for the last problem? Did you do that one?” And Brittany walked by with her minions, she’s the biggest gossip in the school and that’s saying something.
I waited for PaulTrigg after class. “Are your aunt and cousin your only family?”
“Here, yeah.” When he talked about his family he had a tone of voice I couldn’t identify but it meant something.
We walked to our lockers without saying anything else. After school we waited for each other to say bye see you tomorrow.
I nearly walked into a truck on the way home. I didn’t notice the red light. I was making a plan for if PaulTrigg wants to run away, too. How far we would need to go, and what colors we should dye our hair to make sure no one spotted us. In my planning, I assumed it would be easier to catch a pair of runaways than a single one, but I wasn’t sure so I need to get to the library to use a browser where the wardens can’t check my searches. – sE
DD – I’ve been looking everywhere for the cat. I rode to the accident site twice and walked the bike partway from there to the Trigg house, in the sad little strip of woods that runs the length of the suburb and kind of connects the crash site to the Trigg neighborhood. It’s sad because it’s the only area left for the critters who used to roam everywhere. Except out by the Trigg house, that neighborhood might still have a habitat or two. Whenever I think about running away I get resentful about stuff like destroyed habitats. Should be vice versa, huh?
The whole time I just kept thinking, cat come back, cat I welcome you, cat please don’t ditch me. I didn’t find the cat and I’m starting to miss having horrible headaches because they seem related to the cat, to connecting with the cat. But one good sign, maybe. All of a sudden I knew a name for the cat. Not like I made it up, like now I know what it is. Grayfast. The cat has no name for himself but when I need to call him with a name, I should say Grayfast. – sE
DD – I just took the most awesome ride. I was laying in bed waiting for the day to end and I cheered because my head felt like it was ripping apart and exploding. Cheered. That’s how much I’ve been missing the cat. Grayfast.
… The light changes. I’m outside. Day is turning to night. Wind presses my skin and it tickles but I hold steady, crouched above dirt. The dirt warms the air near my belly. Leaves shake on the bush in front of me. In the space between branches, a bird pokes its beak. My legs get tight tight tighter. The bird is going to hop above the branch and I know when it will step into open space. I widen my jaw to fit this small bird. The instant that the bird begins to step above the leaves, I leap to grab it …
No! I have that thought and hear a sound, “Mia–oh!”
… A sound jumps from my mouth. The bird flies. I hit the bush. Leaves fill my mouth. My two–legs helped the bird. Two–legs don’t catch birds, they move walls when they feel hunger …
My head stopped hurting so much and I found myself laying in bed staring at the ceiling again, feeling relief and anger. Relief as a human who stopped the cat from catching a bird. Anger as a cat who had no dinner. But it was anger like a parent would feel if the baby spilled the last bowl of food.
I was so excited I jumped on the bed like a Tupac child. Grayfast was back in contact and he was fond of me even though I’m just a stupid two–legs.
Wait until I tell PaulTrigg, I started to think. Eminem, that was scary! The blast of pain, the fear and hatred, that filled me when I had that thought. – sE
DD – Today I sat with PaulTrigg at lunch. And he sat with me. It was awkward. Good. Awkward. I was picking cheese out of my sandwich, sitting on the futile graffiti wall where kids write stuff no one can read because they’re writing without looking so the yard supervisors don’t notice. PaulTrigg walked by, joking with some jocks – it is so weird how he talks with everybody – and they kept walking and he stopped until I looked up to him standing there.
“Hey,” I said. Before I thought about it, I scooted over to make room and he sat down and pulled his lunch out of his backpack like we always eat together.
“You don’t like cheese?” he asked.
“I only like cheese.” I demonstrated by shoving the whole slice into my mouth.
He acted kind of embarrassed about having it backwards and it was like suddenly we both remembered that we don’t usually eat lunch together. He got really busy opening a plastic container with a bunch of different foods jumbled together inside. They looked like leftovers from dinner the other night.
“Is your family still gone?” As soon as I said it I got super ashamed and blurted out “I’m not–” and he looked at me and I had to finish, “I’m not asking to get invited over.”
The way he nodded, he believed me. “How long have you known that cat?”
I wanted to talk to him about Grayfast, the strange wonderful stuff, but when I opened my mouth I felt a blast of fear. Actual fear. Which scared me on so many levels. So I forced myself to think about his question only. “Ever since my family died.” And that was a new weird, the first time I let those words get next to each other in a sentence. Family. Died. – sE
DD– PaulTrigg sat next to me again today and got his lunch out like it was routine. The food was! I saw him finish his lunch yesterday, otherwise I’d swear this was the same meal. “Completely identical, portions, everything, even the way the white sauce puddles here.” I tapped a corner of his container.
“I see what you mean.” He poked his chopsticks in – forgot to mention, he uses chopsticks – but took no food out.
I was afraid I hurt his feelings. “Are chopsticks hard? They seem super cool.”
As hoped, that cheered him. “I can show you. I’ll bring you a pair tomorrow.” He looked at his food like there was a message in it. “I dished the leftovers in the same order, too. My aunt says I have limited imagination. Guess this proves it.”
“Or you have limited leftovers.” I stuffed today’s cheese slice in my mouth and pulled the sandwich from the bag that was its tomb. “Would you like a condiment sandwich?”
He gave me a smile that made me want another and I realized. PaulTrigg doesn’t smile much.
A girl and two boys came over and joined us, or rather PaulTrigg, to talk about nothing for the rest of lunch period. I made interested (I hope!) noises whenever they tried to include me.
Out of nowhere, I remembered a day last spring. I got mad when some store clerk talked about the weather. I’d rather have silence than inane chit–chat, what’s the point of shallow clichés? “People want to connect with each other, the conversation topic doesn’t matter, it’s the connection, sweetie, that’s what matters.” My dad squeezed my shoulder and we put our grocery bags in the car.
Tupac! Not a memory of dad! Not at school! My fingers slapped over my mouth and I ran for the cafeteria, which was filled with babbling kids who didn’t want to be outside in beautiful weather. Being around them stopped my tears instantly. – sE
DD– After school, PaulTrigg waited for me. He chatted with one person then another, people came then went, but he stood in one spot on the walkway below the front steps. No way to leave without passing him. The school is always in lockdown with that single entrance/exit. Students have fifteen minutes to clear the premises. If he didn’t leave soon they would chase him away. I wanted to outwait him and win this – even though the prize was avoiding the one person I like to see – so I decided to hide in a bathroom and slip out when the custodians came.
Before I could move, PaulTrigg noticed me watching. Kanye. I kicked the window, which made it rattle, which made the security guard look over. Never mind. I shoved my way outside and no I don’t know why I was mad. I got a headache that made my eyes bulge. Not recommended. I tripped going down the steps but, lucky for everybody, I didn’t fall.
“Hey, Ella,” PaulTrigg said.
“Don’t be a pest, I’m fine!” I replied.
“Okay.” We stood there looking around. “Would you rather walk by yourself?”
“Noit’sokaylet’sgo.” We headed for the street. My head pounded with every heartbeat. At the corner, our paths separated and we stood looking around again.
“I need to talk to the cat before my cousin gets back,” PaulTrigg said, like it was a normal thing to say.
“I can take you to where I usually see Grayfast but I can’t guarantee he’ll be there.”
“Grayfast,” PaulTrigg repeated like he had to memorize the name. At which my headache went ballistic.
We made plans to meet that afternoon. “If I don’t show it means I couldn’t sneak out.”
I said nothing else because I didn’t dare open my mouth. The headache made me want to scream. I got back to the wardens’ house by squeezing my eyes shut open shut open. In the split second between each headache pulse I could see. Sometimes I wonder on so many levels what the Tupac is wrong with me. – sE
DD – Fortunately, by the time I got back from school, my headache had stopped.
The house was creepy silent when I walked inside and Ma Warden was in my room, sitting on the bare mattress, sheets on the floor in piles with clothes, books, pointless stuff I keep for memories. Dirty with clean, fragile under heavy. She had torn my room apart because I had to be taught a lesson. I left my room “a disaster” this morning – I hung a towel on the chair and didn’t make my bed.
She waved two pages that I recognized immediately as D pages. “What are those,” I said, like I was totally bored.
“That’s for you to tell me!” She shoved the pages at me. Luckily, these two pages had no details that she could recognize as incriminating. “What is this? Don’t think about it. Start talking.”
Also luckily, my brain was already in fast sneaky alibi mode, searching excuses to get away and go meet PaulTrigg. “Oh, this? It’s English homework. We recite book passages from memory.”
“Why would you hide the pages under your mattress?” Smug, gotcha voice. But she made a fatal mistake. She let me straighten stuff while she questioned me, so she missed body language that said .
“To test myself. I write it then hide it then recite it and only afterwards look to see, did I get it right.”
“What do these codes mean? ‘DD’? ‘sE’?”
Ma Warden only know books from TV shows. “DD is the author, um, Dimitri Dostoevski. The other is ‘signed Ella.’ Every time I say it perfectly I put that. Oh, no!”
I had lifted a book and beneath it was a sand dollar, smashed. Mom never let us take shells from the beach – habitat protection, you know – but we got this home because I gave it to Matty and she couldn’t bear to pry it from his stubby toddler fingers.
“That’s what happens when you let your room go,” Ma Warden said. But we both knew who broke my sand dollar.
Even the wardens succumb to guilt. So, yes, I could go to the library as soon as I straightened my (surviving) stuff.
I steered the bike toward the library until out of view of the house, turned, pedaled fast in the opposite direction to rendezvous with PaulTrigg. Everything worked out perfectly. In fact, I was going to arrive early. – sE
Dearest Dimitri– JK. On this page I can write the D word without fear. Diary diary diary. Because this page goes straight into the new hiding place, the big Ziploc bag in the plastic folder buried under the flower holder at the accident site.
Ma Warden left me alone to straighten my room, so I was able to gather all the D, I mean diary, I mean D – don’t get out of practice, E! – pages that were hidden around the room. I know those pages are just a D written by me but I really need to save details of this time in my life. I don’t know why, or how I know, but I do know. What’s happening to me now is important.
I’ve got other pages hidden around the house and garage. I’ll bring those later. My hands are filthy and my nails are broken from digging the hole for the folder, but PaulTrigg won’t judge me. Maybe I’ll tell him about the D. Someday.
I was glad I got to the accident site early, because I needed to talk to the cat before PaulTrigg arrived. I didn’t see Grayfast but I felt him watching me and my head started to throb.
“Grayfast, my friend needs to talk to you. His name is PaulTrigg and I know you hate his family but I think he’s okay. I really think he is. Please give him a chance. Anyway, you’ll be in a tree or something, he can’t get you. Just listen to what he has to say today, that’s what I ask.”
Yes, D, I was talking to a cat. Furthermore, a cat I only suspected might be present. I’m going to stop writing now so I can get this buried before PaulTrigg arrives. – signed, Ella
DD – Things started okay. A fancy car – BMW? I’m ignorant about cars – parked two turnouts away. That had to be PaulTrigg’s cousin’s car.
“How come you parked down there?” I greeted PaulTrigg.
“So you wouldn’t see – that. My aunt’s car wouldn’t start. I had to drive my cousin’s car. Now the cat will smell him.”
Hearing those words made me feel like when I fell in the deep end before I learned how to swim.
PaulTrigg kept talking like he’d said nothing weird. “I didn’t have your phone number to warn you about being late.”
I gave him my number and explained that he would need to block his number before he called or texted me because they spy on me. He told me his number and I nodded. “Aren’t you going to write it down?” He sounded hurt, which made me smile, which made him smile.
I said his number back to him and no surprise, he looked surprised. “I’m good at memorizing numbers.”
“Convenient!” PaulTrigg giggled like somebody tickled him and I felt so close to him. If only we had kept the conversation irrelevant. But it was going to be dark soon so I had to finish talking and leave.
I waved toward the woods behind the accident flowers. “I usually see Grayfast but –” Instant pain. I dropped to my knees. The explosion in my head was so intense that I was surprised blood and gore didn’t splatter PaulTrigg when he knelt and asked was I okay.
And then. I attacked him. Scratched his face. Jumped on him. Bit his hand that he held up for protection.
He leaped away and I rolled on the ground crying, “No! Stop!” and then just crying. He reached toward me. “Stay away!”
His cheek had red streaks, smeared with dirt. Streaks from my scratching, dirt because my hands were filthy from digging. PaulTrigg watched me cry and nodded like he understood what was going on. That made one of us.
I couldn’t bear looking at him or getting grounded again for being late. I ran to my bike and pedaled away like I didn’t hear him calling my name.
Goodnite, D, I can’t think anymore. – sE
DD– This page in scrabbly writing was next to my pillow this morning when I woke up. Or maybe I came to. Or came back. The writing is hard to read and harder to understand. It reminds me of me, right after the wardens took me and I was so upset I couldn’t remember how to spell or talk in sentences.
I WILL NOT HURT MY TWO–LEGS BUT SHE MISSES THE TRUE FEAR. RUN AWAY, NOT TO THE OTHER ONES. THEY ARE NOT TWO–LEGS.
THE OTHER ONES BRING DEATH. THE OTHER ONES ARE FIRE. THE OTHER ONES STEAL TWO–LEGS.
MY TWO–LEGS IS A BABY MOUSE. SHE CAN’T SEE THE TEETH, SHE WANTS THE WARM. SHE IS A HOUSE WITH OPEN DOORS. THE OTHER ONES SEE THE LOCK AND WAIT. WAIT. ONLY SHE CAN CATCH ME.
SOME OTHER ONES DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE. DANGER FROM DIRT TO SKY.
SCRATCHING IN TWO–LEGS WORDS HURTS. I LOOK FOR WORDS WITH CLAWS. I REMEMBER THE DAY WHEN THE MACHINE BROKE MY MATE AND I CRY A NEW TIME.
I’ve read it so many times, I can say it word for word – it’s weird to know something you don’t understand, like memorizing a foreign language which I guess this is. Cat language slightly translated to English. A few messages come through. Grayfast is scared to be connected to me because of PaulTrigg and especially his family. Or especially PaulTrigg because he’s less dangerous which makes him more dangerous. (Ow, says my brain.) The Triggs are not human and because of them I can get hurt and I can get Grayfast hurt. Grayfast needs to stay away from me because of them.
Eminem. Now what? I have two reasons I’m glad I’m not dead and now I’m supposed to choose between them. – sE
DD– Occasionally the wardens are okay although never for the right reason. They dropped everything when I said I wanted to go to the cemetery. They drove me then ran errands until I was done. They assumed it was a dead family thing, but actually I needed to talk about my situation. Talk to my dead family. People claim they feel close to loved ones where they are buried, so I tried it. What could it hurt except my hope?
Based on comments the wardens casually planted, they see this as a grief breakthrough. Maybe I can use that to convince them I need a driver’s license. Driving would be way better than biking, although harder to hide where I go. They’ll watch mileage.
The cemetery was surprisingly private. I started talking to dad, and mom, and even Matty. I started calm but demonstrated my flair for drama, as mom would say. It felt good to scream.
I have two friends and I can’t choose between them. How can I get Grayfast to trust PaulTrigg? Should I? What would a true friend do? How did I end up in my family, I never know how to act, what to say. Other people know but I never do. Dad was so wise, everybody trusted Mom, Matty had a bizillion little buddies. My old friends were a unit because even the awkward need companions but none of them knew how to say a Tupac thing to me since the accident. Is it my job to show them? What’s the point when we’re in different suburbs, no malls in common? I don’t know what to do. I never know what to do. I kept saying it until all meaning was lost.
No magic words appeared on tombstones but I got an answer or gave myself one. Keep both of them in my life. Grayfast and PaulTrigg. Find a way. – sE
DD – Middle of the night, staring at the dark above my bed, trying to send thoughts to Grayfast to come inside. Colder tonight but I kept the window open for him. Blinding light. My phone screen is so bright in a black room. Call from Blocked Number. I answered but said nothing, trying to decide if I said the words “text me” would it wake the wardens.
PaulTrigg understood my situation. “Ella, I know you can’t talk. I wanted you to know that I am fine and I understand what happened, but only a little more than you do.”
I pulled my pillow and blankets over my head and shoved my face next to the mattress before I said, “I need to know, why Grayfast is scared of your family.”
“I’ll show you what I know if you come over tomorrow after school. Better hang up so you can say this was a wrong number.” As soon as he hung up I realized he had been talking way faster than usual so the call would show up as only a few seconds long.
Ma Warden pounded on the door while opening it. “What’s all that talking in there?”
“Some stupid wrong number.”
“Phone, please.” She shoved her hand at me.
I slapped the phone in. “Thank you. Could you put it by my backpack? I had it on silent and it still woke me up.” It always throws her when I cooperate.
She shut the window and left my door ajar but she couldn’t wreck my mood. My attack had an explanation and PaulTrigg didn’t hate me for it and tomorrow I would get some answers.
I got out of bed fast and quiet and shut my door when Ma Warden shut hers so she heard a single click. I knew it was futile to open the window but I did it anyway for the symbolism. I fell asleep grinning at the dark, scheming some fresh excuses for leaving the house after school tomorrow.
Grayfast has to be wrong about PaulTrigg. – sE
DD – What a day! I didn’t need my fresh excuses thanks to a teacher–student conspiracy that proves some grownups are okay. In Algebra this morning Ms. Benson gave the class a worksheet then called PaulTrigg and me up to her desk. She spoke a little loud like she wanted to be overheard. “Thank you for volunteering to help at math field day.”
“Er,” I replied.
PaulTrigg said, “You’re very welcome.”
Never heard of it, math field day, but it sounded like I’d get to spend extra time with PaulTrigg, so fine.
Ms. Benson said, “I could use help picking up materials this afternoon after school.”
I’m so slow. I was getting mad because PaulTrigg said he was glad to help, which I thought meant he forgot that I was coming over.
Ms. Benson continued, “I’d be happy to contact your families to let them know that you’ll be with me this afternoon.” Finally an oh–duh hit me even though it seemed impossible. Ms. Benson was an accomplice in getting me to PaulTrigg’s after school.
So maddening, I couldn’t confirm because I didn’t get a single private word with PaulTrigg all day. Everybody at school wanted to know what did he do to his face.
So embarrassing, my scratches look like bad Halloween makeup. I can’t believe he’s willing to be alone with me again. But every time he got the question about the scratches, he acted like he thought they were legitimately funny and he told people different stories. “I fell on my fork … I tried to pet a bobcat … I thought the drill had a shaving attachment … “
Ms. Benson called the wardens and they were so excited I’m helping a math teacher – it was sad. But no complaints, she’s picking me up in a few. And that’s not even the important part. This is all so PaulTrigg can explain what the Tupac about his family and Grayfast.
No matter what happens I CANNOT do anything else crazy. C:A:N:N:O:T. – sE
DD– Ms. Benson knows how to talk to the wardens. Best alibi ever. We made blah blah conversation on the drive to PaulTrigg’s house. Ms. Benson parked around the corner and said, super serious, “You look like a fast runner. I’ll be right here watching for you.”
As soon as I stepped onto the walkway to the Trigg house, PaulTrigg opened the door. “My cousin could be back at any time.” He was so serious I barely recognized him.
“Should we go talk somewhere else?”
“No, what I have to show you stays here.” He led me into a library. I was nervous but still amazed. So many antique books on shelves two stories high.
Of course the Trigg house would have a secret room! A library inside the library. PaulTrigg slid certain books in out over and the bookshelf twisted into an open door. Inside was a reading room with a chair and carved table and candles. It sounds cozy but it was like stepping inside a trap.
Behind the chair were two shelves of books. PaulTrigg touched the lower shelf. “I’m allowed to read these.” Like he was convincing himself.
I wanted to tease him to get back the PaulTrigg who always sees a joke but my voice wouldn’t work. I nodded. For a second he looked like himself again. “This is what I need to show you.”
He pulled out a sick green leather book and propped a knee against the wall to balance the book on it. On the cover were letters the color of dried blood that said BOOK OF THE EVERWEER. He turned pages fast, zooming by pictures with calligraphy words. He stopped at a picture across two pages. “This is my family. Some of them.”
The gray photograph was blurry from age. Or so I thought at first. Seven people stared into the camera. Behind each person was a chain of shadows, faces and forms that resembled the front person but were different ages genders. Some of them didn’t look human. They sucked air like they fed from it. I didn’t want them to feed on air near me. Two of the front people were his aunt and cousin. Behind his aunt was a beautiful ghost but in the shadows behind his cousin was a – thing. Horrible. I won’t describe it because I would have to see it in my mind again.
I stepped back to avoid its snarling eyes even though it was just a photo. “I need to go,” I said. Suddenly I didn’t want answers.
PaulTrigg pressed his lips together, nodded, put the book back, closed up the room, walked me out. He kept nodding. When we got to the street and Ms. Benson drove up, I revived. “Could we keep talking at the accident site?”
He looked relieved. “I’ll meet you there in ten minutes.”
The secret library and the book freaked me so major, I didn’t think about how I was asking PaulTrigg to come to ––– my attack site. But I’m here waiting for him and I don’t feel Grayfast nearby so I hope I can keep my head to myself.
Ms. Benson is parked down the road. She doesn’t pry. She is very chill for a grownup. – sE
DD – Our conversation at the accident site is tattooed in my memory.
PaulTrigg parked behind Ms. Benson and ran to meet me. “We have to hurry. My aunt is back. My cousin will be home tonight.”
I needed to hurry, too, to finish here before Grayfast showed up and caught PaulTrigg here. No blah blah. “Grayfast calls you the Other Ones.”
He never asks how do I know what the cat thinks. “That’s a good name. Appropriate. Although I can’t be included.”
I couldn’t sit, I talk slower when I’m sitting. We walked circles around the accident site. “You’re not one of them?”
“I don’t know yet. If I haven’t turned by the time I’m 20 I’m not going to. My cousin says I’m overdue. My aunt says ‘patience, the greatest come latest’.”
“Whatever ‘turn’ means – what if you don’t? You sound like they’ll disown you or something.”
“My aunt would try to send me into exile. My cousin won’t allow that. Only those who are part of the secret can be trusted to keep it.”
“Are you saying he might kill you?”
“Not might. Definitely. You’re in danger too, because you belong to Grayfast. The cat knows the secret.”
The more serious it got, the faster we walked and talked. “But what is the secret? What are those – things, those other layers behind your aunt and cousin in that photo?”
“Everweer power shadows. I don’t know a lot about them, my training stopped when I showed no sign of turning. I can tell you what I know some other time, it’s not important now.”
He said ‘weer’ as in ‘werewolf’, which didn’t improve my impression. They weren’t werewolves but had attitude in common. “Some shadows looked mean and creepy. Do you want to turn into that?”
“I don’t get a choice. But they aren’t all like my cousin.”
“True. Your aunt seems okay.”
We did a lap without talking. “I think my cousin is coming back to capture that cat. You have to warn Grayfast.”
“He knows your cousin is dangerous.”
“Grayfast needs to run before my cousin gets back.”
“Why did your aunt call Grayfast a friend? Was she trying to lure him?” When I came to dinner and Grayfast watched from across the field.
PaulTrigg looked surprised. “She did that? How did the cat react?”
“He didn’t trust her. Should he have?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Are your parents Everweer?”
“I don’t know. They had me when they were teenagers and disappeared when I was little.”
I no longer thought I had the worst family situation. “That’s what you need to do. Disappear. Before your cousin can hurt you. Hide until you know if you’re going to turn.”
“You make it sound simple and clear.”
We walked to the cars. Ms. Benson unlocked her passenger door with a snap.
“Is she an Everweer?”
“No. Don’t talk to her about this. It could cause danger for her. I better go. Let’s keep talking at school. Warn Grayfast right away.”
If only I knew where Grayfast was.
Driving home, Ms., Benson kept checking me but asked nothing.
“He said not to talk about it,” I said.
“I understand. Rather, I respect his desire for secrecy.”
“How long have you known PaulTrigg?”
“From birth. His mother and I were best friends.”
The Trigg house didn’t seem so wondrous now, with that dark room lurking in its heart. “He needs to get out of there,” I didn’t mean to say out loud. That’s the problem when you trust somebody. Words come out too easy.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Ms. Benson said. And with that, a new conspiracy was born. – sE
DD – I didn’t know how to warn Grayfast. I wasn’t sure we were still connected. When I got back to my room I opened my window, stared out. Trying to send my idea to Grayfast. Come here. Come to this window. Not even dinnertime yet, but I lay in bed. Come to this window.
What a relief when my head ripped apart.
… I run. Through puddles, over fences. I jump from tree to tree. A thorn scratches my ear and blood flies behind me. Soon the Other One will find this scent. He chases me and I run. I want to fight him in the special place …
For just a few seconds, I was in Grayfast’s head. He was full of fear and courage. It looked like he was in the strip of woods that runs through the sub. I guessed he was headed for the accident site and running from PaulTrigg’s cousin. If Ms. Benson could give him a ride in a car that could hide his trail, his scent.
Ms. Benson didn’t pick up her phone when I called. Eminem, it was almost dinnertime and tonight I had to help bathe the other prisoners. It would be so late – too late!? – by the time I was alone again and could try calling her again.
I was so nervous I had to pace and my room wasn’t big enough. I went back–and–forth on the upstairs landing and that’s when I heard the solution. Pa Warden listens to the police scanner and it was on now. A voice on the scanner sounded familiar and after I paced a few times I knew why. And how to help Grayfast.
The voice belonged to a patrolman who was at the accident scene when my family died and who came to the funerals and visited me a bunch of times. He said if I ever wanted to talk, he’d be right there. And he was working tonight.
Pa Warden stopped setting the table and sprang into action when I asked him to help me contact the patrolman. I said I had questions I needed answered at the accident site. More of my grief breakthrough, he obviously thought. The Wardens contacted the patrolman and he agreed to meet us at the accident site. I actually felt bad – they were all so eager to help me. The Wardens loaded the van with the younger prisoners and we all went. The younger prisoners were happy to go, they were promised pizza afterwards.
At my request, I went in a separate car with Pa Warden. They thought I wanted a private ride home. I actually wanted as much commotion as possible at the accident site. I suspected PaulTrigg’s cousin would not attack Grayfast in front of three cars, one of them a cop car. I was right.
My idea worked even better than I hoped. The patrolman kept the light flashing on his squad car because the younger prisoners loved it. He promised them a siren at the end if they let us talk, so they did. I had to ask terrible questions about the night of the accident, about where he found me and why did I get ejected and how does he know they didn’t suffer. But it was worth it when I saw the shadows move.
Nobody else noticed the gray and black cat that slipped under the police car. Not long after, PaulTrigg’s cousin jogged by like he was out for a run and eventually he jogged back and we were still there and I could tell from his expression that he had lost the scent. But I made the mistake of watching him. He noticed me, recognized me. He jogged out of sight but it wasn’t the last I would see of him. I knew that from his stare. – sE
DD – Special note to Ms. Benson. It’s me, Ella. If you find this I am probably dead. These are the latest pages of my diary. The rest are buried under the flower shrine at the accident site where you took me to meet PaulTrigg.
A new worst night of my life. After I met with the patrolman, the Wardens let me skip my bath night duties and I lay in bed thinking how I was partly wrong about them. They have stupid rules and they expect the worst from me but they legitimately care about me, too.
I stared out the open window and hoped Grayfast was safe. And PaulTrigg. He didn’t mention if he was in danger, but he had to be. That must be why he acted that scared.
I must have fallen asleep because I jumped like when you have a dream about falling and you wake up. Grayfast was laying on my chest, staring at me. He was so amazing up close. I was afraid to touch him in case he would run. His ear was caked with dried blood and he was panting. His eyes glittered. He dug his claws into my skin right before the pounding started. Downstairs, someone was slamming a fist against the front door.
I must not have slept for long, it was still bath time. The downstairs bathroom door opened and I heard the youngest prisoner splashing in the tub and Pa Warden giving wash–behind–the–ears instructions. Ma Warden walked up the hall to the front door saying things like, “At this time of night.”
My light was on and my door was open and I felt so exposed. All of a sudden – too late! – I wanted to scream. Don’t open the door, not even a crack! But Ma Warden did open the door. She kept the chain on and there was conversation through the crack. Before I heard the cousin’s voice, I was calling 911 on my phone. I didn’t know what would happen but I knew it would be bad.
I clutched Grayfast against my chest and he let me. We slid off the far side of the bed and I opened my backpack for Grayfast to climb in and I went out the window. I made a lot of noise hanging onto the vines and sliding down the side of the house but by then, Ma Benson was making so much noise no one heard me. “You can’t come in here Henry the children no get out you can’t what are you doing no no noooo.”
She screamed and she shrieked and she must have put up quite a fight because PaulTrigg’s cousin was still downstairs when the squad cars came up the street, responding to my 911 call.
I ran with Grayfast out the back of the yard. At first I went through backyards but when the helicopters started circling, going through yards looked suspicious. I stole a bike and pedaled like schoolgirl–with–backpack, headed home from some innocent outing. Kind of late but no worries in this safe suburb.
Now it’s the middle of the night and I’m on the floor in the back of Ms. Benson’s car in her driveway. I couldn’t risk knocking on her door because the house was dark and it could have taken a while to get inside and meanwhile we’d be obvious on the porch. The cousin will be looking for Grayfast and maybe me. For now he’s hiding from police, not hunting. Anyway, that’s my hope.
Grayfast is on the car floor beside me. I couldn’t do this waiting alone. – sE
DD – Ms. Benson gets up before dawn to go to an exercise class but she didn’t make it this morning. Her car door slammed and the radio started with the car. Commercial at first, followed by news update as she drove away. One dead one missing in a home invasion, attacker still at large, residents advised to stay inside. The car braked, rolled forward, braked, like Ms. Benson wasn’t sure what to do next.
I whispered in case that was less startling. “Ms. Benson, it’s me, Ella, I’m hiding in your car.” I had to repeat twice before she reacted. “Don’t turn around! Please, keep driving. I’m the one missing from that home invasion.”
“Who is dead—no, don’t speak yet.” She turned three corners, pushed her garage door button, parked inside her garage, brought me inside her house. We sat on the floor in the hall in the middle of the house where no windows could see us. Grayfast hid in the backpack again until her cats sniffed it like crazy so I had to reveal him. When he poked his head out, the other cats hissed and ran. They stared from a distance as Ms. Benson shared their food and water with the intruder. She forced me to eat a bagel while I told her what I heard downstairs last night, when Ma Warden opened her front door and died.
“Alcatur Trigg killed her.” Alcatur was PaulTrigg’s cousin. Ms. Benson didn’t say it like a question. She seemed to know a lot more than PaulTrigg wanted her to know, but I didn’t try to find out what else she understood.
I told her, “I have to leave, and help this cat get far away. PaulTrigg has to leave, too.” I hadn’t thought this until I heard my words and realized. His cousin would come after Paul because he helped me.
“Won’t you be safer here where people you know can protect you?”
I shook my head. Yesterday PaulTrigg said the cat needed to run away. If one couldn’t be protected, how could three?”
All my runaway fantasies paid off that morning. Ms. Benson followed a plan I’d made long before I met Grayfast or PaulTrigg. Back when I wanted to run away from my family. – sE
DD – I gave Ms. Benson a shopping list and I risked a text to PaulTrigg from her phone. I don’t pray because I don’t know who I’m supposed to be talking to, but this morning I prayed. That PaulTrigg knew Ms. Benson’s first name was Sharon, and his cousin didn’t. That he’d know this text was from me and his cousin wouldn’t. That his cousin hadn’t hurt him yet.
My text said, “Good morning Paul! Plz stop by before first period to discuss Math Field Day – Ella Benson”.
I gave Ms. Benson all the instructions for PaulTrigg and they worked perfectly. Go to Home Room so you aren’t marked absent today, then hide in Ms. Benson’s car. She’ll say she forgot her grade book and have to stop home for it.
When Ms. Benson drove home to “get her grade book”, she left PaulTrigg and her car in the garage and went back to school on her motor scooter, so the runaways could use her car to get to the train station. Now my hair was spiky and dyed red, and makeup made my eyes look green instead of hazel. No time to dye PaulTrigg so I buzzed his head while he got used to wearing a hockey fan shirt and reading glasses that made his eyes squint.
In my backpack was the retainer I never wear because I hate the steel bar against my teeth and the way it bulges my lips like a pop star. That plus Ms. Benson’s skirt and makeup completed my disguise. We each wheeled a small suitcase she loaned us and used the train tickets she paid for. If nobody questioned why two teenagers were out of school we might get away on the 10:27.
“Act smart and mature so they’ll trust you,” I told him as we sat waiting for the bus.
“I’m not that good an actor,” PaulTrigg said.
When I smiled, my lip caught on the Tupac retainer.
Otherwise we didn’t talk because any subject we might discuss would interfere with our acting like two normal kids, probably siblings, on their way home.
In the backpack on top of Grayfast, I stuffed Ms. Benson’s girliest nightgown with a gnarly sweatshirt poking out. The pack was half zipped with a belt around it like the zipper was broken, not an air hole. The only thing that made us conspicuous was our lack of cell phones. PaulTrigg left his in his school locker on airplane mode.
Good news bad news, cops are everywhere at the train station. They might keep PaulTrigg’s cousin away from here but they can be nosy about teens out of school. I’ve been writing with my head down and PaulTrigg is pretending to snooze. Grayfast is the smartest cat in history and is completely still inside the backpack.
At last they’ve called our train, way late. – sE
DD – Wishing is weird. Even when you get a wish, it is never what you had in mind. I wanted a family and I wanted to run away. Now PaulTrigg and I are watching the sunset outside our train window, two transfers and seven hours into a new life together. Where my shins touch the backpack, they feel a warm knot that is Grayfast.
I’m in warm knots, too. PaulTrigg just gave me the best compliment of my life.
My face was feeling trapped in a makeup mask and the inside of my lips were bloody from all the times they caught on the retainer. I went into the bathroom and came back with face washed and retainer in a pocket. PaulTrigg frowned then lightened. “No more disguise, that’s what’s different.”
“Yup, back to bland.” It’s dangerous to talk when I feel comfortable, I always reveal something.
He sounded amazed. “Are you saying you’re bland?”
I almost got mad until I realized. He couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to look so average. Brown hair brown eyes medium height and build. I didn’t need a disguise, no one ever noticed me. “My face is so flat. No bone structure like yours.”
“Your face is fantastic. It catches light from every angle.”
I’d heard similar words and voice once, when my parents took me to a museum to see a famous painting. Someone in the crowd said that about the face in the painting.
TMI. I = intense. Our heads darted to opposite directions. I stared out the window a long time, filled with thank–you.
How anything can feel so good when lurking underneath is so terrible. So many things I can’t think about if I want my mind in one piece. Running from someone who is after us for reasons I don’t understand.
The train wheels clack clack clack and the train windows glow pink and gray with the sunset. So peaceful and relaxing, it’s hard to believe death could be chasing us or PaulTrigg could uncontrollably turn into a thing like his cousin. Someday. This train is nonstop overnight so we don’t have to think about the future until tomorrow. – sE
The Last Page of Book 1
First, thanks to YOU for reading! I’d greatly appreciate your taking the time to post a review.
DDsE exists for two reasons, one terrible, one wonderful. My beloved cat Leo disappeared, and in my desperate futile efforts to find him, I became (let’s call it) preoccupied with the idea that maybe I could connect with him, somehow. I never did. Unluckily, I live in an area with many coyotes.
Luckily, near my home, every month the performs. This improv comedy quintet invents 2–hour Shakespearean plays on the spot and they are miraculously funny, clever, wild. Improvised Shakespeare Company inspired me to try creating without a net, writing Ella’s diary entries each day without advance preparation.
As Ella’s diary unfolded, I got enthusiastic support and I am so grateful for it. Many thanks to those who followed Ella’s early entries via the DDsE blog, to the TLC critique group (Rebecca Stahl, Joanne Park, Deborah Glik, Kas Satori, Mary Terzian), and to the usual suspects, who like my writing in ways that keep me going: Christine Madsen, Rhiannon Riegel, Julie Robitaille, Deborah Schneider.
Cover photo by me. (I made the cover using .)
About Sue Perry
Concert stage, dark except for a deep blue spotlight. Singer drops to one knee and his narration evolves from murmur to rant. “This is the story of a man who got what he wanted but he lost what he had. He got what he wanted but he lost what he had. He got –”
It goes on forever. It’s mesmerizing. Uncomfortable. Confessional.
Pretty sure this memory is from the time I saw James Brown, decades ago, but the lost identity of the singer isn’t the point.
I’ve spent my life gazing across some fence or other, admiring greener grass over yonder. I’ve acted on so many impulses to jump the fence. No complaints, but it has sure taken me a long time to appreciate where I’m standing right now. And nowadays that blue spotlight chant fills my head whenever I contemplate a new jump.
Sometimes I jump back.
I was a low–budget television producer until I wrote a psychological thriller, Was It A Rat I Saw, which Bantam–Doubleday–Dell published in hardcover in 1992. Soon after that I became the mother of twins, jumped into graduate school, and became a disaster scientist. I dabbled in academia, government research, and consulting.
I stopped writing fiction for nearly two decades, until I noticed how much I missed it. I resumed writing novels with the literary fiction Scar Jewelry about a family with secrets that started in the era of Los Angeles punk and persist for decades; then began the speculative detective quartet FRAMES, with Nica of Los Angeles and Nica of the New Yorks. Also in progress is a nine novella series, the young adult paranormal horror romance, DDsE.
Funny. Back in the day, I had a single book idea at a time. Now I’m flooded with them, can’t keep up with them, though I write just about every day.
I live in southern California. I had to leave for five years to confirm this is where I belong. I live with multiple cats, comfortably close to my twins and granddaughter. Like my life paths, my friends and family are all over the damn place. I like to visit them, spend time at the ocean, explore cities, and go out to hear live music.
We can stay connected via social media, where I engage in bursts punctuated with lulls. I’m most active on my blog, , and on . You can also find me on:
I’d love to hear from you!
Being sixteen is Tupac Eminem. Ella has no one to talk to except her new diary, which she has to hide from Ma and Pa Warden, the foster parents she’s stuck with since her family got flattened in a car accident. Now that she lives with the wardens, she has to switch to a new school, where people act like her tragedy is contagious. Her new suburb is just as boring as the last, and offers no hope of secret passageways or magic. But life is not all bad. There’s an interesting boy at the new school – although his family turns out to be impossibly dangerous. And there’s a feral cat, living in the suburb’s only open space, a pitiful excuse for woods. Sometimes the cat invades Ella’s mind. She tells her diary, ‘I’ve gone a special kind of crazy, a split personality. And my other personality is a cat, not a person.’