First chapter: Part the First — Fire & Rain
Previous chapter: Virago: Part the Fourth — Sisters
Kelsey blew on her cup of tea. She felt like she had been in this house that reeked of onions and mildew for ages. The window pane in the kitchen was cold to the touch, but the rain didn’t sound as violent anymore. Kelsey meandered into the next room, where she expected to find Barbara. It was a small parlor, with even more lace doilies and tired furnishings.
“Hello?” Kelsey looked around for her host, but the only sign of life emanated from the candles next to the television. They had been recently lit, and the wan flames wavered with uncertainty.
She could hear the click of metal against metal from nearby. It could only be the dryer with her hoodie inside. She followed the sound and yanked open the dryer door. Tearing off the musty sweats and an oversized shirt, she tugged on her own clothes. She was zipping up her hoodie when she finally heard movement. It was enough to make her uneasy. Barbara hadn’t disappeared on a pleasant note.
“Oh good, you found your clothes. Looks like they’re dry.”
Kelsey didn’t like her host. She could feel Barbara resented her, and she couldn’t understand why. Passive aggressive people always got on her nerves. Why couldn’t people ever just come out and say “I don’t respect you ever since you ate that last slice of pepperoni pizza that you knew I wanted?”
“Yeah, I did. Thanks for letting me crash here for a bit. Your dog scared the hell out of me.”
“Charlie’s just doing his job, deary.” Barbara looked at her with cold eyes, like she was scrutinizing a crack in a wall where she saw a spider disappear into. What happened to that sweet little old lady persona she had on an hour ago?
“Okay well, I’m gonna get out of your hair now. Later.”
“You do that. Give my best to your family.”
Even though Barbara knew full well it was only Kelsey and her sister. She could swear that she saw the corner of her host’s mouth curl upwards. For what reason, she couldn’t fathom. She couldn’t understand people, no matter how much time she spent observing them. They still managed to fascinate and infuriate her without any detailed explanation.
Kelsey snatched her phone and charger off the counter, letting the screen door smack closed behind her.
It was 7:24 on a Friday evening in November. She had only gotten off work a couple of hours ago, but it felt like an age. She felt heavy with anxiety. Shoving her hands deep into her pockets, she hurried home. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her. Could Barbara still see her out here in the dark? Could anyone else? Kelsey told herself it was just her anxiety. Breathe in. Breathe out in tiny silver ghosts.
7:37, and she could see the porch light on at her house. It had been left to Hannah and Kelsey to care for. It wasn’t the prettiest on the block, and it was far from the biggest. The front porch creaked, the windows jammed, and the white paint applied by their father decades ago was peeling like crazy.
Putting the dog and owner out of her mind, Kelsey climbed the steps. She was exhausted and famished. Why doesn’t anyone ever use “famished” anymore?
She didn’t have time to ponder the answer because the front screen door flew open. It almost slapped her in the face. Blonde hair and cinnamon clogged her senses as Hannah attacked her with a rough embrace.
“For god’s sake, where were you? I’ve been scared to death for the past two hours, Kelsey! What is wrong with you?”
“Okay, seriously. Chill. Because my phone was dead and I didn’t have the energy to respond to any of your five thousand text messages. You may have even sent more.”
“You need to check in with me when you do shit like this. What if you were dead in a ditch somewhere?”
“Then you wouldn’t have to deal with me? Dude, where’s the food. I’m famished.”
“Famished,” repeated Kelsey as she wandered away from Hannah and towards the promise of nourishment. “It’s like ‘starving’, but less used. I don’t know why.”
“Not that. The other thing you said. How can you say that?” Hannah padded after Kelsey. Hiddleston sat on the counter, surveying his kingdom as his tail swished back and forth against a plastic-wrapped plate of food.
“Oh, Hiddleston! Get off my shit, you stupid cat thing. Hannah’s probably fed you six times today.”
“Kelsey,” Hannah said in that listen-to-your-older-sister tone.
“What!” Kelsey spun around with Hiddleston in her arms. “I wasn’t serious, okay? And you know that. And I know you know! Can you just let me eat my food? I haven’t eaten anything except a can of Pringles all day.”
“Thank you, Hannah, for making food for me,” Hannah continued as Kelsey put Hiddleston on the kitchen floor.
“I’m literally going to smack you. I’ve had a shit day, and a shit night, and if you think that I’m supposed to be forever in your debt because you make me a wrap, then you can take this wrap and shove-”
“Kelsey, for gods sake. I’m done, okay? I’m sorry for trying to be a decent human being. Which makes one of us.”
Kelsey already had half a chicken and veggie wrap in her mouth. She was quite content to quit quarreling.
Across from her, Hannah sank into a chair. Sighing melodramatically, she pulled her fingers through her long, wavy hair. Kelsey eyed her, chewing the rest of her wrap.
It had been over two decades since Hannah had laid eyes on her sister, and promptly burst into tears. She had been expecting another rosy-cheeked, golden-haired cherub-like herself. That did not happen. Kelsey came into the world already disappointing her sister. It became a running theme.
“I think you broke the tub,” Hannah stated. “It’s leaking, and it’s gross.”
Kelsey stared at her while she continued munching.
“I’m calling a guy tomorrow about it. But just look at it and see if you remember doing something to it.”
Kelsey shrugged and washed her plate. She was still hungry for about five more wraps, but she figured she’d put on a good face and scope out the bathroom situation.
Hannah followed her up the stairs, going into a detailed description of exactly what she was doing when she discovered the faucet, when it was, and how it made her feel. Her fascinating account could put Kelsey to sleep at this point.
Kneeling down next to the tub, Kelsey tore away the shower curtain. There was something dark brown oozing towards the drain.
“Did you try to wash mud off something?”
Hannah shook her head.
“Hm.” Ignoring her instinct to reach out and poke it, Kelsey chewed her mouth instead.
“So you don’t know what you did to it?”
Why does it always have to be something I did?
“No,” Kelsey said aloud. “I don’t have the slightest clue.”
The faucet produced a nauseating belch, and more of the slimy substance slid out to leisurely join its brethren in the bottom of the tub. Kelsey almost puked. Something didn’t feel right at all. She felt like her eyes were trying to escape back further in her head, they were open so wide. Behind her, Hannah leaned over to get a better look. Kelsey bit her lip, not wanting to overexcite her sister about what she thought the mysterious glop could be.
But before she could voice her thoughts, Hannah already rationalized her own explanation.
“Kelsey, I think one of your weird friends took a shit in our bathtub.”
Next chapter: Part the Sixth — Arthur