Warning! Warning! Heavy use of strong language in this story.
The summer heat had invaded the school, yellowing the grass of the sportsfield, stifling the air in the corridors and setting up camp in the classrooms. The air conditioning had been defeated, banished to the enemy regions of the Principal’s office and school reception.
In Marie’s class, the only ones paying attention to the teacher’s yammering were the anxious nerds in the front. Everyone else was staring off into space or doodling surreptitiously on their notepads.
Marie didn’t sweat that much, a fact she was grateful for, as she watched the teacher’s valiant attempts to make geometry interesting even as her floral dress drew dark with patches of sweat. The underside of her tubular, sagging breasts were outlined by perspiration. Marie turned her head to see Natalie, her best friend, looking at the teacher with a mirrored expression of lofty disdain. She flicked a glance to Marie and they both shared a mean-spirited smirk.
Marie sighed, inspecting her watch. Fifteen minutes to go. Around her, the students were growing more restless, fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats. Marie could tell that Natalie was in a bad moon, from the twin combinations of fighting with her boyfriend at lunch and the sweltering temperature. For her part, Marie wasn’t happy either. Her twin sister Jenna had earned the scholarship that Marie had coveted and the fully paid-off car which came with it, a gift from their oh-so-proud parents.
Just thinking about it made Marie feel inadequate, made her little pink mouth twitch in annoyance. She cast her eyes about the room again and they settled on Jacinta Wallace two rows behind on the opposite side of the room. Jacinta was as dissimilar from Marie as any girl could possibly be. Marie lived in one of the largest houses on the bay and took regular vacations to locations like Hawaii, Aspen and Monaco. Jacinta, Marie knew, lived in a dingy two-bedroom flat with her womanising father and hadn’t travelled further than the city limits. Where Marie was slim, petite and turned heads with her styled blonde hair, lined eyes and impossibly tight jeans, Jacinta faded into the background. She was a girl of sixteen with bad teeth, curly brown hair and a large build. She towered over all of the other girls in class, and even some of the boys. In comparison to Marie and her trio of girlfriends, Jacinta was a troll in denim shorts.
Natalie followed Marie’s eyes to Jacinta, bent over her notebook, looked back at Marie and smiled again. This time the smile conveyed something malevolent. Melissa, the last member of Marie’s group, whom was sitting just behind her, gave a soft snigger, having caught the exchange. Jacinta looked up, then, aware of the unpleasant attention being focused on her and spotted the three girls staring at her nastily, rictus grins on their glossy mouths. She seemed to shudder and looked back down at her notebook. Marie had liked what she had seen in Jacinta’s eyes: fear.
Marie understood that some might have thought that her fixation with Jacinta was beneath her, but, to Marie, Jacinta was all that was both wrong and right with the world. Jacinta was unkempt, awkward and couldn’t even be bothered to get rid of the faint moustache that lined her upper-lip. Marie couldn’t conceive of even going outside without a layer of make-up on, let alone pursuing interests which didn’t involve capitalising on her growing sexual allure. That Jacinta actually lived outside of the social boundaries and rules by which Marie lived her life seemed both outrageous and insulting. Such behaviour was not only somehow offensive, it was worthy of punishment.
When the bell rang, Jacinta was one of the first people out the door, having quietly packed away her things a few minutes before end of period.
“Did you see what that fucking fat bitch was wearing today?” Melissa sniggered. She had dyed her hair candyfloss pink at the tips and her piggy eyes were lost in the pastel blue of her eyeshadow. Her foundation, thickly-applied and two shades lighter than her actual skin color could only do so much to cover the acne on her cheeks and chin.
“Would it kill her to wear deodorant? Like, seriously, so gross,” Natalie sneered, standing up and pulling out her ponytail, combing her fingers through the freed auburn locks.
“I want to get her,” Marie said, standing up and walking to the door, Natalie and Melissa obediently following.
They stepped out into the crowded hallway, just in time to see Jacinta duck into the girl’s bathroom on the opposite end of the hall, immediately obvious for her dowdy clothing and poor posture.
“She should have just gone home,” Melissa laughed as the three made a beeline for the bathroom, shoving past a bespectacled boy who happened to be in their way.
“Excuse you,” Natalie said to him as she held open the bathroom door for Melissa and Marie
Inside, there was only one other girl, a voluptuous senior who was inspecting her braids in the mirror. Despite being older than them, she frowned when they stepped into the room and immediately made herself scarce, heading out the door.
The bathroom was cooler than the hallway by a few degrees, and featured a row of battered green cubicles opposite some stainless steel sinks. One of the cubicle doors was shut.
“Hey, Jacinta,” Marie called out in a sing-song voice. “Are you still in here?”
There was no answer to that and she kicked one of the empty cubicle walls. The loud bang which resulted seemed shockingly loud in the small room.
“What’s that smell?” Natalie giggled.
“Oh, that’s just Jacinta. She smells like shit,” Melissa laughed, coming to stand in front of the locked cubicle and knocking on the door. “Jacinta! Don’t you know it’s rude to ignore people?”
Marie smirked, stepping into the cubicle beside Jacinta’s and lowering the toilet lid, climbing onto it. She gripped the top of the cubicle wall, standing on tip-toes so she could peer down at Jacinta.
“Hey, fatty,” Marie smiled.
Jacinta gaped up at her with large, terrified eyes. Her pants were still around her ankles, exposing her white underwear. The underwear was stained dark red with blood; one of Jacinta’s hands was holding a partially unwrapped tampon.
Marie practically squealed in sadistic delight at the embarassing sight. “Oh my fucking – Natalie, Melissa, she’s got blood all over her pants!”
Natalie bounded up beside her, and Marie stepped down from the rim of the toilet, arms wrapped around her stomach as she burst into peals of laughter.
“You’re so disgusting, Jacinta,” Natalie jeered, now looking over the wall from where Marie had been standing. Melissa kicked the door of Jacinta’s cubicle twice, giggling, before clambering onto the toilet beside Natalie to join in on the taunts.
“Don’t you know how to use a tampon? Or a pad?” Melissa brayed. “Plug it up already!”
Marie caught her exhilarated reflection in the mirror before her eyes focused on the wastebasket sitting beside beside the row of cubicles. Without a second thought, she whirled around and grabbed it with both hands, lifting it before her.
She walked back to Jacinta’s cubicle and kicked it open with one hard strike. The door unlatched from the impact, revealing Jacinta with her pants still around her knees. She gave a little scream and flung up her arms to cover her face. Marie stepped forward, angled the bin downwards and dumped the contents onto Jacinta’s head. Out came the bin’s foul offerings: a pile of soggy tissues, a banana peel, a discarded can of soft drink and several bloody tampons and pads. Marie shook out theu bin, Natalie and Melissa now practically screaming in adulation, and then threw it at Jacinta. It bounced off of the crying girl, landing on the floor by her feet.
“Enjoy it, fatty!” Marie laughed, moving to the sinks to wash her hands. They shook from adrenaline under the stream of the tap. She turned the water off, and, as her coup de grace, flicked her wet hands at Jacinta, now crying softly and still buried in garbage.
Marie strode out of the room and pushed open the bathroom door. It almost swung shut on Melissa and Natalie as they scurried after her, still howling with laughter.
“I can’t believe -,” Melissa wheezed, leaning on Natalie for support who was wiping tears from her eyes.
“Maybe she’ll clean herself up a bit now,” Marie smirked, walking down the now-sparsely populated hallway in the direction of the carpark. Natalie and Melissa stopped short when a fork appeared in the hallway, one leading outside and the other to the other side of the school.
“Do you want to take the bus with us?” Natalie asked.
“My sister will drive me,” Marie replied.
“Oh, okay. Well, do you want to hang out tomorrow? Go to the mall, or something?” Natalie said.
“Yeah, why not. I need new shoes. Anyway, I’m gone. Love you!” Marie blew the two girls a sarcastic kiss and then pushed the door open, stepping into the hot sunlight.
The carpark was full of students, parents and departing vehicles, as well as carousing groups of teenagers heading across the lot to the food and arcade plaza opposite to enjoy their Friday afternoon. Jenna, Marie’s twin sister, was already waiting inside her car, the engine running. Although Marie and Jenna were twins, their appearances had diverged significantly since the beginning of adolescence. Marie thought that Jenna’s default look of tied up hair and black-rimmed spectacles made her look like an assistant librarian. Still, both girls shared the characteristics of blue eyes, peach-coloured skin and thick blonde hair.
As Marie got close, Jenna unrolled the window and gestured for Marie to come closer, to the driver side door. Marie sauntered up, basking in the cool air from the car’s air-conditioner as it washed out of the open window.
“Hey, sis,” Marie began.
“Hey, yourself,” Jenna said, glaring up at her. “I heard that you messed with Jacinta today – again.”
Marie shrugged, adjusting the strap of her backpack. “So?”
Jenna frowned at her. “So? You think that’s cool, or something? What do you think our parents will say about it when they find out? How do you think Jacinta feels? What’s wrong with you, Marie?”
“Why do you even care?” Marie asked. “It’s not like Jacinta is even your friend. She doesn’t have any friends, matter of fact. No one likes her. Because she’s a stupid bitch.”
“You’re a stupid bitch,” Jenna said flatly.
“Whatever,” Marie sneered, walking to the passenger door and trying to open it, finding it locked. “Oh, come on, Jenna, open the door.”
Jenna frowned more deeply at her through the window, shaking her head. “You can walk back. Or take the bus with your idiot friends,” Jenna said firmly, voice muffled by the glass.
“Are you freaking kidding me!” Marie asked incredulously, stepping back as the car pulled out of the parking space and drove down the driveway and out of sight.
Marie swore under her breath as she watched the car disappear past the hedges which separated the school from the main road, taking Jenna’s suggestion and heading towards the bus.
By the time Marie had walked to the other side of school where the bus stop was, it was already too late. She had just stepped out of the gate near the chemistry labs when she spotted Natalie and Melissa boarding the 338 bus, the last passengers to board. The bus doors closed and with a chuff of its engines began to pull away onto the road. Whilst Jenna probably could have run for it, and made it, some measure of embarassment stopped her from racing after the departing vehicle. She watched as the bus and its complement of rowdy teens rounded a corner and vanished from view.
Marie knew of another bus which stopped near where her house was, but the stop was down the main road, at the very bottom of the long hill the school was situated on. Irritated, Marie skulked out onto the sidewalk and started walking. A car full of teenage boys drove past her, hollering stupidly out of the passenger window as they passed by; Marie ignored them.
The main road wound around the hill and was peppered with modest houses and a few small stores. For the most part, though, the walk was a boring one, with the only sights being trees, grass, and more trees. Nature didn’t interest her, and she felt more and more indignant with every step on the cement.
Near the bottom of the winding path, dark clouds bloomed above her, thundering threateningly.
“Seriously?” Marie tutted, quickening her steps to no avail. Before long, the clouds began to rain, and she found herself soaking wet underneath the conifers of a large cypress. This storm was ferocious, bringing to an end the humidity of the day, and she shivered as a cold wind rushed through the trees.
As Marie was starting to feel despondent at how poorly her Friday afternoon was going, a black car appeared on the road, its headlights shining through the downpour. To Marie’s surprise, the mysterious car began to slow and eventually pulled up beside her.
Marie shifted her stance, images of kidnappers and worse running through her mind as the car idled next to her for a few moments. The windows were very dark, too dark to see into. She wondered, nervously, if she ought to run back into the trees or cry for help. Then, the passenger window of the car rolled down, revealing the driver.
She was a very attractive-looking woman in what looked to be her thirties, wearing a dark, pinstriped suit. Her shining black hair was cut simply, resting on her shoulders.
“You’re getting soaked!” The mystery woman called to her.
Relieved to see a female driver, Marie’s shoulders relaxed. “Yeah, it caught me by surprise, I guess.”
“You should hop in, I’ll give you a lift.”
Marie smiled uneasily. “I don’t know, I’m not really supposed to -”
The woman laughed melodically. “At least let me take you somewhere there is more shelter than that tree!”
“Um…Okay,” Marie agreed tentatively, running through the deluge with her backpack over her head, climbing into the passenger seat.
It felt warm and lovely inside of the car, and the dark leather seats were so soft they were almost like velvet. A man was crooning softly on the radio in a language she couldn’t understand.
“Here,” The woman said, holding out a simple red handkerchief. Marie took it gratefully, mopping up the water from her hair and forehead.
“Thanks,” Marie said.
“Oui, Marie,” Vivian smiled. Her lips were a dark, seductive red. “Where’s home?”
“Uh…Camden Lane. But it’s a bit far, you don’t have to…You can just drop me off at the bus stop at the bottom of the hill,” Marie replied.
“Camden Lane it is,” Vivian said instead with a bright little laugh, showing her perfect white teeth. The car sped away down the slope and Marie shrugged, sinking back into her seat.
“So, you’re a high-school senior?” Vivian asked conversationally, eyes straight ahead.
“Yeah, I mean, I will be next year,” Marie said.
“How old are you?”
Marie hummed. “That’s such a lovely age to be. I remember those days…It seems like a lifetime ago. I suppose it would be from your perspective!”
Jenna gave another weak smile, looking around at the contents of the car. Hanging from the rearview mirror was a strange little statuette. It was a golden cat, although its head was that of a horned man with a triangular crown on his head. As Marie look at it, it spun slowly on its golden thread, revealing that the cat also had a scorpion’s tail with a single jewel at the tip.
“That’s a real emerald on that,” Vivian said, having caught Marie’s interest, as the car slowed to a stop at some traffic lights.
“What is it?” Marie asked.
“It’s what you might call a talisman,” Vivian said. “What’s your favourite class in school, Marie?”
“I don’t really have one. I guess I like art class.”
“Do you dabble in watercolours?” Vivian asked with a chuckle.
Marie smiled. “Sometimes.”
“And I’m sure your very popular, eh?” Vivian asked as the light turned green and she turned right onto Parkview Terrace. It was still raining heavily, and the windshield wipers were on full blast.
“I don’t know about ‘popular’, but, yeah, I’ve got my girls,” Marie replied, thinking of Natalie and Melissa and how they were faring on the school bus. She sunk deeper into the plush leather seat. This sure beat any bus she’d ever been on, that one was for sure.
“I never had any friends when I was a teenager,” Vivian said ruefully. “Everyone found me a bit strange and my parents never seemed to ‘get it’. You know?”
“I think so,” Marie said. “I’m pretty sure they love my sister more than me,” She laughed. “She’s the ‘good’ twin.”
Vivian laughed good-naturedly, turning into a street lined with willow trees. “I’m sure it feels that way, but I’ll bet it’s not true. Everyone has their good side and their dark side.”
“What do you do? I mean, like, what’s your job?” Marie asked, trying to deflect the conversation from a sore spot.
“Oh, that,” Vivian said, still smiling amiably as she drove along. “I’m a…I’m a life coach, I suppose. I help motivate people to solve their problems, whatever those may be. I help folks find the success they want. I help them sort through their issues. And if some people have pain in their life I help them get rid of it.”
“So, you’re, like, Tony Robbins?” Marie asked and Vivian chuckled again.
“Yes, I’m like Tony Robbins, that’s exactly it.”
“What kind of problems do you, like, solve? Emotional or financial or…?”
“Oh, all of the above, really,” Vivian said breezily, coming to the end of the street and making a left. “I work with everyone. All ages, all backgrounds. I’ve worked with teenagers like you, for instance. I’m sure you’ve felt a little low, a little small from time to time. I can help you sort through all of that and create a better future for yourself.”
“I guess you enjoy helping people, huh?” Marie asked.
“A woman needs to have an impact on the world, one way or another,” Vivian replied. “I’m sure you want to have an impact – I’m sure you already do.”
“Anyway, with teens, you’d be surprised at how many of them come to me with the same story – there’s a kid at school who’s just bothering them and bothering them. I get them through it,” Vivian continued. “I’m sure you know all about that.”
Marie shifted in her seat. “Well, there’s this one girl…”
Vivian nodded. “Your age?”
“A little younger,” Marie explained. She wasn’t sure why she was divulging this information to a stranger, but Vivian seemed cool. “She’s just – the most aggravating person I’ve ever met, you know? I mean, she just doesn’t seem to care about how much she bothers us. Like, she’ll come to school in the nastiest clothes, or, just be awkward and make everyone uncomfortable.”
Vivian pulled to a stop at another series of traffic lights and turned to look at Marie with a maternal air. “Oh, that sucks.”
“It does,” Marie agreed. “We’ve known each other for years and as long as I’ve known her, she’s just been a complete creep. Says the wrong thing, does the wrong thing. I mean, I’ve tried to help her, you know? Show her how to – well, teach her how to be more ‘normal’. But she never listens.”
Vivian hummed. “It’s safe to say you two aren’t friends, then.”
“No!” Marie said emphatically. “No way. She’s just – she’s a mess. Believe me.”
The lights changed and Marie and Vivian sat in silence for a time as the car navigated the rain-slicked streets. It occurred to Marie that not once in the entire trip had they passed a pedestrian or another car. She occasionally stole glances into the back of the car where an ebony chest was resting on the backseat, decorated with gold filigree and lacquer.
Quicker than Marie would have expected, they pulled up outside of her house in Camden Lane without her having to give Vivian any directions at all. She looked confusedly out the window as Vivian parked the car by the neat line of cobblestones which led from the garden to Marie’s front door.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Vivian said with a dramatic flourish. “This is where I leave you, I believe.”
“Yeah…Thanks,” Marie smiled weakly, still confused by the strange car ride by altogether happy to be home.
“Oh, just one more thing,” Vivian said, leaning over into the backseat and prising open the little black chest. Marie could not see the contents inside as Vivian rummaged around.
“Aha,” Vivian muttered, shutting the chest and returning to her seat. In her hand she held a beautiful black pearl of baroque shape, which seemed to shimmer on the end of its silver chain. “This is for you.”
“Oh, no -” Marie began.
“I insist,” Vivian smiled. “Wear it and I promise you – your luck will change, and soon.”
She held the gorgeous pendant out and Marie only semi-reluctantly took it, oddly soothed by its luster and the weight of it around her neck as she slipped it on.
“Well…Thanks, again,” Marie said, exiting the vehicle and emerging into the rain. Her parents were not home yet, and neither was Jenna, for the driveway was still empty. It looked like she had the house to herself for a little while.
“Au revoir, Marie!” Vivian called from behind the black windows. Marie hurried away up the path, turning back at the door to see Vivian’s distinctive car round the corner. She smiled, one finger playing with the pearl at her throat. Her friends would not believe her luck – how jealous they would be tomorrow to see her with such a lovely necklace…! All that would have to wait, however. The rain showed no sign of stopping and Marie decided that as soon as she got upstairs to her bedroom she was going to have a well-deserved nap.
It rained that night. It flooded the gutters and beat at the windows. It was only in the early hours of Saturday morning that the the storm finally passed and the first rays of dawn were permitted to shine in hues of glorious pink and gold.
Jacinta awoke when the cheap plastic alarm on her bedside table beeped insistently at 9:00AM on the dot. She groaned, slapping the alarm several times with her hand before she finally hit the off switch, and then snuggled back down in bed. Her eyes felt scratchy and raw from a whole night spent crying in her room, and she had no real desire to get up and interact with the world. Saturday was, after all, just the precursor to Sunday, which was itself the precursor to dreaded Monday. She had no idea how she was going to walk into that place, especially given that Marie, Natalie and Melissa had almost certainly spread the whole humilating episode around. Jacinta cringed at the memory, and willed herself back to an uneasy sleep.
Before she could make the attempt, however, there was a soft knock on the door and her father, Martin, opened the door, poking his head around.
“Hey, there,” He said, opening the door more fully. “Feeling better?”
“No,” Jacinta said, voice a mere whisper. The bed dipped at the end where her father came to sit on it, one hand patting her leg.
“I wish you’d tell me what was wrong. Or, if you don’t want to tell me, we can always call your mum,” Her father suggested.
He sighed. “I have some bad news, is all. I thought you would want to know.”
Jacinta clenched her eyes shut. How could things possibly get any worse?
“A friend of yours from school – Marie? Was it? Marie Wade? She went missing last night. Didn’t come home at all. Someone saw her getting into a black car on her walk back from school and – well. It’s on the news, now. Her parents are going crazy, which is understandable, of course. I just thought, since she’s one of your classmates, that’d you’d-”
“She’s not my friend,” Jacinta said numbly as the realisation of what her father had just said hit her. “I don’t…I don’t know her all that well.”
“Oh…I see. Well. I’ll let you wake up a bit.” Her father said, patting her again on her leg and standing. “Pancakes for breakfast? That always cheered you up as a kid.”
“Sure, dad,” Jacinta replied, listening to the bedroom door open and shut.
She swung her legs out of bed, brow knitting in confusion. Marie? Missing? A mean-spirited part of her very much hoped Marie stayed missing. That would make Monday a lot easier, at least. Jacinta crept out of her room and into the flat’s single bathroom near the top of the stairs, closing the door softly behind her.
As expected, her eyes were swollen from crying and were still bloodshot. She frowned, running the tap and wetting her fingers with cold water, pressing them to her eyes. Jacinta sighed at her reflection in the mirror. She knew she wasn’t a pretty girl, but she didn’t know what, if anything, she could do about it. ‘And anyway,’ she thought to herself, turning the tap off. ‘Just because someone doesn’t look good, that doesn’t justify throwing a bin on them.’
Jacinta wandered back to her room, unhappy, and stopped when she noticed the new item which was now laying across her pillow. It was a painting in an intricately carved wooden frame. The wood was ebony, as black as night. Jacinta sat on her bed, pulling the painting closer to her in amazement.
It depicted a rather bleak tableau of a small boat adrift in an endless ocean. The sky was a dark slate grey, with no clouds or defining features at all. The water was also a grubby color and was rendered so well Jacinta could practically feel how cold and unwelcoming it would be. But the most extraordinary part of the painting was the lone figure inside of the dinghy – a pale young woman with straight blonde hair and a terrified expression on her face. On her neck was a dark pendant, too far away in the perspective of the piece for Jacinta to see clearly.
Jacinta looked more closely at the figure. She didn’t know how it was possible, but the girl in the painting looked just like Marie, down to the pink polo shirt she was wearing. The painting even seemed to be moving slightly, so that as Jacinta watched, she could see, impossibly, the movement of the waves and Marie’s silent screams.
Jacinta gulped, and put the painting down. For some time, she merely sat and stared out of the window, too shocked to articulate her feelings.
Her father came in again, rustling a large black paid tied with a drawstring.
“I think it’s finally time for us to clean up this place, eh? I’m going to go to the dump after breakfast and get rid of some junk. Do you have anything to throw away? Just chuck it in this bag and I’ll sort it after breakfast. Come on downstairs first, though, I made pancakes,” Her father said cheerfully, depositing the bag on the floor and bustling back down the hall.
Wordlessly, Jacinta took one last look at the painting. She then picked it up and put it in the garbage bag, all too happy to throw those bad memories away.