The Death of Sarah Laumann (Part 4)

photo of dark tunnel

September 3, 1919 {Part 2}

After a long day I could finally rest. I still couldn’t believe it. My big brother, my favorite brother, my precious James was gone. I never got a clear view of the man’s face. All I could see was that the man who shot James had sleek black hair and a muscular frame. If I had just been at a better angle I could have seen his face. If only.

I could still here Evie’s scream as James fell. I wasn’t sure if I screamed too, but Evelyn’s scream was piercing. I didn’t know she cared so much. I thought she hated him, but apparently not.

I sighed and dropped onto my bed. My eyes started watering. I missed him so much and he had only been gone for a few hours. I let out a loud sob. I would have never done something so hideous in public, but I was alone and James was dead, I deserved to be repulsive for one night. I turned onto my side, my dress crushing my ribs. Normally I didn’t feel it, but now, now the tight, knee-length dress was killing me and I wanted nothing more than to be dead.

I screamed and fell out of my bed. Still sobbing, I ripped off my dress and my corset along with it. I sank to the floor, sobs racking my body. I wanted James. I wanted him right here next to me. I wanted here to comfort me, to tell me everything was okay, to just tell me he was alive.

I heard a door open so I pulled my head out of my hands. “Mother?”

She was the only person who had a key, besides Raymond of course, but my fiancé wasn’t going to be back for another two weeks. I hadn’t heard a reply so I pulled on my dressing gown, wiped the tears off my face and walked down the steps slowly.

“Is that you, Mama?” My voice cracked. Still no answer. I stepped into my little kitchen only to see the two people I least expected, Raymond and Evelyn. “Raymond? Evie? What are you doing here.”

They glanced at each other, but didn’t answer. “I thought you were going to be gone for a couple more weeks, Raymond.”

“I never left. I’ve been in New Orleans the entire time,” he replied. His voice was cold and hard.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. I looked at Evelyn. “Did you know?”

“Of course I knew, Raymond and I have been planning to go away and get married. We were thinking New York, but then your brother found out so we had some complications,” Evie said with a sickly sweet smile plastered on her face.

“My brother?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him. Raymond was the one who shot poor James. I thought it was obvious, but I guess you really are just a dumb Dora.”

“But you looked so upset when he got shot,” I replied, even more confused than I was before.

“It’s called acting, Darlin’.” She sounded so not-Evelyn-like. It was scaring me. Then, everything she just said hit my like a wall of bricks.

“Raymond shot my brother. He shot my brother because James knew about you and him.” I fell into a conveniently placed chair. My best friend, the girl who was like a sister to me, was planning on running away with the man I loved with all my heart. When I promised to help her run away with him, I was giving them my consent. ‘How smart of me,’ I thought sadly. I knew I wasn’t the smartest, but I had never cared about being smart. Being smart was never going to help me, so it didn’t matter to me. But now, not being smart and not being able to connect the dots was the worst thing I could have ever done.

“Why are you here, then?” I asked. I was shaking. I was terrified. This man had killed my brother. I had loved this man, but he hadn’t loved me.

“Why do you think? You’re James’ sister and you know the whole story. Sarah, darling, it’s your turn to die,” Evelyn said.

“Before you told me I didn’t know from nothing. Why’d you tell me if you were just going to kill me?” I asked. I was getting more terrified by the second.

“More like, we would have a reason to kill you,” Raymond said.

“A-A r-reason?”

“I’m sure you remember the letter I sent a few months back?” Raymond asked.

“You haven’t sent me any letters,” I whispered.

“Yes, I have. March 13, 1919.” It hit me.

“Y-you, y-you’re th-the A-axeman,” I stuttered. I looked at Evelyn. “How long have you been with him?”

“Since the very beginning,” Evelyn replied, tilting her head.

“Y-you’re both insane,” I yelled.

“I know,” the woman said. I watched as Raymond pulled a small axe out of his coat. How he concealed it so well? I didn’t know. I fell off the chair and moved away as quickly as I could, too scared to get up. I didn’t get far before Raymond plunged the axe into my skull.

September 3, 1919, the day I, Sarah Laumann, was murdered by the Axeman of New Orleans. I thought I would live to get married and have children. I thought I would grow old and live a peaceful life. A perfect life. Up until that day, I had lived a perfect life.

I fell back, and everything went dark.

Advertisements

The Death of Sarah Laumann

photo of dark alley

September 3, 1919

I woke up to a loud knocking on my door. I groaned. “What is it?”

“Open the door Sarah. I’m taking you shopping. Think of it as a belated birthday present,” I heard my brother’s voice called out from the other side of the door. I shot up in bed and rushed to get dressed. I loved shopping.

Once I was done putting on my dress, my brother followed me down the stairs and out the door.

“First we’re going to get new shoes, then we are going to Miss Petal’s dress shop, she’s made all my favorite dresses. After getting the dresses, we will go to lunch. Just don’t take a wooden nickel and get yourself hurt, or killed. If you do, I swear to everything, I will tell Evelyn your most embarrassing secrets,” I threatened. James didn’t reply. He tried to act like he was some bimbo, but I knew it was all an act. “Do you promise you won’t do anything stupid?”

“I promise. Just don’t bore me to death,” he said. We didn’t walk very far to get to the shoe shop. It was a small building, but it was my favorite place to get shoes. I had gotten all of my shoes there since I was a little girl.

The owner of the shop, Ms. Levard, was a small woman who had a very strong love for cake. Her husband had died when I was four years old and after he died Ms. Levard wasn’t as happy. My father told me stories about the kind Mr. Levard and my father when they were children. Unlike mama, papa grew up in New Orleans with Mr. and Ms. Levard. Mama grew up Labadieville, Louisiana, a small town where everyone knew each other.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

James and I had been in the shop for an hour and I had only chosen six pairs of shoes.

“Are you done yet?” James groaned. I looked down at my selection. I had picked up one pair of shiny silver heels, a pair of rose gold flats, light pink heels, baby blue heels, violet heels, and a pair of sleek black flats.

“Fine. I’m done,” I sighed. Oh, how I loved shoes, but dresses were even better than shoes.

Once I was finished at the shoe shop, James and I went to Miss Petal’s dress shop. I didn’t know Miss Petal personally, but from what I gathered she was a cruel, witch-like woman who knew next to nothing about everything that wasn’t dressmaking. I chose my dress quickly and left as soon as I could.

Then was a leisurely lunch at Antoine’s. It was an old restaurant, but it was nice and had delicious food. James and I both ate slowly, savoring the taste of our food. Antoine’s was my favorite restaurant. It was a family business. I was once friends with the owner’s son, but we stopped talking after he asked me to marry him and I turned him down. Honestly, he should have expected it. It wasn’t the first time a girl turned him down.

After finishing our lunch, my brother and I walked side by side back to my little house. We were almost there when James suddenly stopped and said, “I’ll be back, just wait here.”

“Wait, James. I told you not to do anything reckless,” I protested.

“I’m not doing anything reckless,” James yelled as he walked away. “Don’t follow me.”

I stood for a moment, then followed him, not caring what James wanted me not to do. James walked into a small alleyway. I stood right outside, but in a spot where he couldn’t see me, but I could see him. Another man walked into the same alley, but I couldn’t see his face. I tried listening to hear if they were saying anything, but I couldn’t hear anything.

I tried focusing, but I heard a voice right behind me. “Hello Sarah.”

I jumped. “Evelyn! What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Nothing, really. I was on a short walk when I saw you hiding here,” she replied with a shrug.

“All right, if you’re going to stay here, shut up. If you won’t, please leave,” I said. Evie stayed quiet. I still couldn’t hear anything, but I could tell they were arguing.

I didn’t see the strange man pull out a gun, but I heard the shot. Evie screamed and the man ran. I stood there, petrified as my brother fell to the ground. I ran to his side, but he was already gone. I sat beside James’ dead body, crying silently. I closed his eyes, got up and ran.

I had to get away from there. I ran home, and when I reached the door I pulled it open and slammed it shut the moment I got inside. I collapsed, still in front of my door. I wiped my eyes dry and thought about James. About why the man killed him. About how I demanded he not get killed.

I told him not to get killed. If he had just listened. I wouldn’t have seen my older brother die, I wouldn’t have to tell the rest of our family he was dead, Jack wouldn’t have to grow up without him, and I wouldn’t have lost one of the most important people in my life.

James, why would you do this to me, to everyone?

The Death of Sarah Laumann(Part 2)

photo of woman on wooden swing

August 15, 1919

Five days after Evelyn’s little get together, I was visiting my family. It was my mother and father’s anniversary. They had been married for 20 years now. I loved mama and papa so much and since I moved away, I hadn’t seen them often. I didn’t even get a chance to see them on my birthday.

When my father opened the door, I flew into his open arms. “I missed you so much, Papa.”

“I missed you too, baby girl. Even if it hasn’t been very long,” he replied.

“Papa, it’s been almost a month since I last saw you. I haven’t seen Mama in a long while either. I saw James just last week though.”

“I must be getting old,” Papa said. I laughed. I followed him inside and to where Mama was waiting.

My mama was stunning. She and I shared a nose, a kisser, and a head full of long blonde curls. While she had light, playful amber eyes, my eyes were the same as my father’s pale blue ones.

James was a younger version of our father in terms of looks, but he had our mother’s playfulness and kind nature. He had the same big blue eyes as me and Papa, and Papa’s messy black hair. Jack, on the other hand, had all of our mother’s features. Well, as much of her as he could have since he was only eight months old.

When my mother saw me she got up and pulled me into a long hug. “How are you doing, Sweetheart?”

“I’m doing wonderful, Mama. How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m the same as always,” Mama replied.

“The same as always? Today’s your 20th anniversary. Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course I’m happy, I’m just a little tired. Jack hasn’t been sleeping at night.”

“When does he sleep, then?” I asked. My baby brother was the strangest thing.

“He sleeps during the day. He was up all night and now he’s soundly asleep. I think it’s your fault he doesn’t sleep when he’s supposed to,” Mother blamed.

“My fault?” I asked, completely shocked.

“When you left home I guess Jack figured it out and didn’t like sleeping without his older sister in the next room.”

“What about during the day? I’m not in the room next door then either.”‘

“Maybe Jack just prefers sleeping during the day unless your home at night,” Mama said. “Your brother is so strange, but he is adorable.”

I laughed. Mother thought everything tiny was adorable. She loved small things. Most likely because she was shorter than me and James. I was the same height as James, something he hated about me.

“Where’s James?” I had just realized James was nowhere to be seen.

“He’s off trying to impress Evelyn. He loves her so much, if only she loved him back,” Mother sighed.

“Mama, you’re forgetting that James and Evelyn are to be married. In fact, they are getting married within weeks of me and Raymond,” I reminded.

“How is Raymond?” Mother asked. I sighed. I didn’t want to talk about Raymond. He hadn’t sent me any letters or anything. I hadn’t heard from him in ages. Why was everyone asking about Raymond?

“He’s fine,” I told her sharply.

“You haven’t heard from him, have you?” I shook my head. “It’s all right, Darling, I’m sure he’s just busy.”

“He could have at least sent me something. A dress, or a letter, or a pair of nice shoes, just something, anything,” I yelled.

“Shh, you’ll wake up Jack. Don’t want to do that, if he wakes up, you’ll be the one putting him back to sleep. It took three hours to get that child to sleep. He wanted to stay awake and play,” Mama laughed.

“You should have let him, I miss playing with Jack,” I pouted. My mother just shook her head. I spent the next few hours telling my parents everything that had happened since I last saw them. Once Jack woke up, I played with him until James came back covered in dirt and escorted me home.

Jack was such a happy baby. He didn’t cry once, all he did was laugh and smile. I loved him so much, I loved my entire family very much. I wish I had more time with them.

Death of Sarah Laumann (Part 1)

 

photo of vintage tea set

August 10, 1919

My eyes flew open and I sat up in my soft bed, shrieking. I had had a horrid dream that ended with me lying in more than a lick of blood. If I hadn’t moved into my own little house a month after I got engaged, my big brother James would have heard me from his room next door. If he was in a good mood and sober, he would sit in my bed and hold me until I fell back asleep.

My baby brother Jack would be asleep in his cradle, he was like a rock when he slept, not even the loudest creep could wake him. My mother and father, Joseph and Lily Laumann, would likely be awake worrying about money. Our family didn’t have a jitney to spare. I hoped having one less mouth to feed would be helpful.

My fiancé, Raymond Elliott, was a wealthy business man so he would be paying for all of my needs. He gave me whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I wasn’t a gold digger, but I was partly marrying him for his money. I admired my handcuff. It was beautiful, I loved it and Raymond. For my 19th birthday, which was today, Raymond would be away on business, so he promised he would take me to New York as soon as he got back. Why New York? I didn’t know. I had heard it was beautiful around this time of year, so I didn’t care. As long as he was taking me away from this horrible place.

It was August 17, 1919, seven days after the tenth murder. They had been going on since May 22, 1918, when Joseph Maggio and his wife were attacked. It was absolutely terrifying. Especially since Joseph was a good friend of my father’s. The part that scared me the most was that nearly ten months after the first attack, I received a letter from the murderer. Of course, I gave the letter to the authorities, but not before copying it down word for word. It read:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am, and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

The letter, and the whole idea of a murderer, gave me the jitters.

Why the letter was sent to me, I didn’t know that, either. It terrified me, knowing that this thing knew where I lived. Or maybe he sent it to a random address. Hopefully it was the latter. When the police read the letter, the first thing they did was have it published in the newspaper. I wasn’t sure how many people died that night, but I was too scared not to have a jazz band playing in my living room that Tuesday night.

The next night, my nightmares started. I hadn’t gotten a full night of beauty rest since that Tuesday half a year ago. Ten people had been attacked and the city of New Orleans was in a state of absolute terror.

I slid out of bed and went to put on my newest dress. I wanted to show off the gorgeous dress during my best friend, Evelyn’s, breakfast party. I always had the best dresses, all of the other girls were always jealous of me. Jealous that I had a handsome and rich fiancé. Jealous of my beauty. Jealous I had a beautiful house. I had everything they wanted, who wouldn’t be jealous.

I walked out of the house, holding my head high and walking with a charming smile on my face. I didn’t bother looking anywhere except straight ahead of me. I knew I turned heads when I passed by. I didn’t need to see reactions I had been seeing since I was merely ten-years-old. I had gotten my first marriage proposal when I was thirteen, of course I refused. Since then, I always had a constant flow of proposals.

Finally, I had chosen to marry Raymond Elliott, the charming and mysterious businessman. I had fallen in love with him the moment I met him. Unlike many of the other girls my age, my father allowed me to marry for love, but I didn’t come from a wealthy family like the rest of my friends. They all married to make their families richer. I was lucky, another reason for them to be jealous of me.

After walking for twenty minutes, I arrived at Evelyn’s home. I knocked on the door and waited. I hated waiting with a burning passion. If I wanted something I wanted it immediately. Another upside to marrying a rich man. I got whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.

Finally, the door opened and the butler, Arthur, invited me inside. I had been friends with Evelyn since we met at the park when we were ten. Her parents treated me like I was their daughter and they were kind enough to help feed me and my siblings when we didn’t have enough money to feed all of us. In fact, they were in the process of arranging Evelyn’s marriage to James. They wouldn’t have even considered making James their son-in-law if he wasn’t on a path to becoming a wealthy businessman.

What they didn’t know was that Evelyn was already planning to run away with another man. See, she hated my brother, she had despised him since that day nearly eight years ago when James pushed Evelyn into a puddle of mud. When he pushed her, Evelyn was wearing a new dress her father gave her. Honestly, the dress was hideous, but Evie doesn’t have the best taste in dresses. The only thing I had against my friend running away with the man she loved was, my brother was utterly and hopelessly in love with her. Evie may be my best friend, but I would take my brother’s side in almost every argument, unless it involved fashion. My brother was hopeless when it came to fashion.

Arthur lead me to the living room as I thought about Evie and James. When we reached the room Evie and the others, Irene, Florence, Martha, Rose, and Lillian were sitting at a table giggling softly. I walked up behind Lillian.

“What’s so funny?” I asked. Lillian jumped and they all shut up the moment they heard my voice. Evelyn gracefully stood up and walked to the other side of the table to give me a gentle hug.

“It’s nice to see you Sarah. Happy Birthday,” Evie said. Ignoring my question completely. “How’s Raymond?”

“Thank you. Hopefully he’s nifty, I haven’t heard from him in a little while,” I replied.

“Well, you better hope the reason you haven’t heard from him is just that he’s busy making himself richer,” Lillian giggled.

“Why would I want to hope that?” I asked. Of course, I wanted him wealthier, but why would Lillian say something like that?

“Raymond is keen and rich, many women want him for a husband. I know I do,” Rose said.

“Well that’s too bad for you darling, he’s all mine. I know Raymond wouldn’t run off with some other women, he has me. I don’t think he could do any better. I don’t think anyone could,” I replied with a sweet smile and little hair flip.

“We’ll see about that. I bet he’s off with some other man’s wife right now. I feel like Raymond’s the kind of man that would do that,” Irene said, a smile playing on her lips.

“Irene! That’s my fiancé you’re speaking of. He’s perfect and would never do something like that, and like I said before, he has me. I’m a doll.” Florence just shrugged and continued sipping her tea. “Why’d you shrug like that?”

“They’re all right. Your fiancé probably is with some other dame right now, probably an unhappily married woman.”

“Oh, shush,” I said. “What do you think Evie?”

“I think, Raymond is in love with you and only you,” she said with a soft, wistful smile.

“You know Evelyn, at some point, you will have to tell who your mysterious lover is. If you weren’t practically my sister I would have told James and your parents about him. I’ve kept your secret so you’ll have to tell me his name at some point. It’s a quid pro quo,” I said.

“Do you even know what quid pro quo means?” Irene asked.

“You really think I would know what some random Latin words mean. I heard James use it when he was talking to a couple of men you came to our house once. I just thought of it now. I don’t know if it makes sense or not,” I laughed. Irene just rolled her eyes at me. Someday, that girl’s eyes were going to fall out, all because she rolled them too much.

I sat down at the table and we spent the rest of the day chatting about our dresses, our families, and our trivial problems. I left to go back home just before sundown. I would have stayed later, but it wasn’t safe for a beautiful young woman like me to be walking home after dark. I didn’t know what horrible things were out there at night, especially now with the Axeman on the loose.

The Phantom’s Trial Chapter 7

MARIE

The ride to Manhattan was a short, thoughtless drive. I hate sitting and not thinking about anything in particular, but it’s hard not to. We got there at ten in the morning. Alex and Emma’s family had a house at the very edge of the city. Kaden parked the car, and we all got out, walked up the driveway, and rang the doorbell. It was rare that I saw the twins’ adoptive parents. I told them what I had promised the twins, and they had agreed to let me take them once they turned 16, so I knew I wouldn’t be in any trouble.  

Ace opened the door after we waited for a few seconds. “Hey, Marie,”  

Ace said, “Who are they?”  

“Ace, you know Zach. This is my big brother Kaden,” I said pointing to Kaden.  

“Big brother?”  

“Yeah. Where are the twins?”  

“They’re inside. Do you want me to go get them?”  

“No. Can we come in?”  

“Sure,” Ace said, sounding a little confused.  

“Thanks.” We walked into the house and followed Ace to the kitchen where his mom was sitting with the twins. Emma and Alex hadn’t noticed me, but their adoptive mother Cassidy did. I put one finger to my lips and walked up behind the twins, placed an arm around each of their shoulders, and said, “Did you miss me?”  

“Marie!” they shouted in unison.  

“I can’t believe you’re already 16. I have your birthday present,” I said. “What is it?” Alex asked. I could feel Kaden pouting behind my back, probably because the twins referred to him as a what and it.  

“Not what, who.” They finally noticed Zach and Kaden behind me.  

“Who’s that guy next to Zach?” Emma asked.

“Your birthday present. His name is Kaden. He’s our 27-year old brother,” I said. The twins stared at him thoughtfully.  

“Well, he looks like an older, guy version of you and a younger version of dad,” Emma said.  

“That’s true. I guess that’s enough proof,” Alex agreed. “I have another present for you.” 

“You do?” The said together again.  

“I’m keeping my promise to you.”  

“We’re coming with you?! Like, we’ll be with you from now on?” Emma asked.  

“Me, Kaden, and Zach.”  

“Can I come?” Ace asked, as predicted.  

“We already planned for you to come since I knew you would ask. So yes, you can come,” I said.  

“When are we leaving?” Alex asked.  

“We’ll stay here so you can spend the last day with your parents, then we’ll leave around seven tonight. That alright with you?” I asked.  

“That’s perfect,” Emma said.  

“Why don’t you go to the living room while I talk to your mom. Okay?” They all left the room, leaving me alone with Cassidy.  

“Thank you, Cassidy. For letting me take them,” I said.  

“You’re welcome. Take good care of them. We really do love them,” she said.  

“When I made them that promise, I thought we would be living on the run, but now we’re going to be living with our older brother in a lovely apartment. They were 12 when I told them I would take them in. If I hadn’t promised them, I wouldn’t have to worry about them losing their lives for this.”  

“I know they really want to help you. They love you, Marie. They want to help you in every way possible. Even if it means giving up their lives,” Cassidy said, a tear rolling down her cheek.  

“I still don’t know why I made that promise to them,” I said.

“Well you did, so take them with you after cake this evening. Some of their friends from school are coming over. They obviously need to be here for that.”  

“Crap. They go to school. I forgot about that,” I said, facepalming.

“Well, the school year’s almost over, and they’ll be juniors next year so you can do what you did for school with them,” Cassidy said.  

“I only went to the library as many times as possible, but that might actually work since I live somewhere now.”  

“Good. Now go sit with them. Emma was excited to show you her room.”  

The next few hours passed quickly. I had helped Emma pack her stuff, and we had spent a bunch of time talking about her friends. I now had a good idea of what to expect when her and Alex’s friends came over later. I had asked Emma if she had a boyfriend yet and she had blushed and said no, but Alex did have a girlfriend. I hadn’t decided if I was going to embarrass them yet. I may just leave that to Kaden and Zach.   

The doorbell rang at five o’clock, I was closest to the door, so I went to open it. At the door was a petite brunette girl with piercing blue eyes.  

“Hi,” she said. “Who are you?”  

“I’m Marie. Emma and Alex’s older sister. What’s your name?” I replied.  “Eliza.” We shook hands, and I led her inside.  

“Emma, Alex! There’s a girl named Eliza here to see you,” I shouted. Emma ran down the stairs and hugged the girl.  

“‘Liza!” Emma screamed.  

“Emma!” Eliza screamed back.  

“I see you’ve met my big sister and idol, Marie. Marie, this is my best friend Eliza,” Emma introduced. Kaden joined us in the foyer.  

“Hi,” Kaden said.   

“Are you Marie’s boyfriend?” Eliza asked. My eyes widened, and I had to stop myself from strangling her.  

“N-no. Why would you think that? I’m their older brother,” Kaden stuttered.  

“Oh, well good,” Eliza said, inching closer to Kaden.

“No thanks,” he said, pushing Eliza away.  

“Emma, I didn’t know you had a big brother,” she said, turning towards my sister.  

“Yeah. I didn’t know either until a few hours ago,” Emma said. The doorbell rang again.  “That’s probably Raylene.” Emma opened the door and standing there was a girl that was about the same height as me. She had two sparkly, bright, blue eyes, long light brown hair that was braided on the side, and olive skin. She looked very cautious and smart. “Looks like I was right. Come on in.”   

“Hey, Emma. Happy birthday. Are they your siblings?” Raylene asked.  

“Marie and Kaden? Yeah. How did you know?” Emma replied.  

“You look alike,” Raylene said dully.  

“Marie, Kaden, this is Alex’s girlfriend, Raylene,” Emma introduced.  

“Huh, I’ve never met anyone named Raylene,” Kaden laughed.  

“What’s so funny?” Raylene growled.

“N-nothing,” Kaden stammered. “It’s a unique name.” My brother’s girlfriend’s glare settled a bit.

“Thank you.”

“Raylene! When did you get here?” Alex said from the bottom of the stairs.

“Just now.” Alex hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. Eliza had been silent the entire time.  

“Why is she here?” Eliza asked, disgusted.  

“She’s Alex’s girlfriend, Eliza,” Emma said. “I’m really going to miss you guys.”   

“Why?” Eliza asked.  

“Because she and Alex are moving in with their siblings and they’re going to be homeschooled for the last two years of high school,” Raylene said. I looked at Alex. He shrugged. He hadn’t told her anything. I would have to watch Raylene, she was definitely suspicious. Eliza seemed even more suspicious, and she was really annoying, and I’d known her for ten minutes.  

“How do you know that?” Eliza asked. Before Raylene could answer, there was knock on the door. This time Alex opened the door. I was expecting another girl, but it was a boy. A gorgeous boy, I thought. He had shaggy light brown hair and pale blue eyes. His eyes were almost pure white.   

“Hey, Alex,” the boy said.  

“Hey, Ryder.” Ryder walked in and looked around the room before his eyes settled on me.  

“Who is she?” Ryder asked.  

“My big sister. This is Ryder, my best friend. He’s 17. Ryder, that is Marie and the dude next to her is my older brother, Kaden,” Alex said.  

“Hello, Ryder. Stay away from my little sister,” Kaden said. I growled at him. “Okay. Sorry. Jeez. Now I know not to get in your way. Or be overprotective.

“Hi, Ryder. I hope you didn’t teach my baby brother anything he shouldn’t know,” I said, holding my hand out for him to shake. “Don’t worry. My sister kept me on a tight leash.” 

“Older or younger sister?” I asked.  

“She’s my twin sister, and she’s right there,” Ryder said pointing to Raylene.  

“Oh wow. I wouldn’t have realized it if you hadn’t said it,” Kaden said. “You two act so differently, but you do look a lot like each other.”  

“I know.” Just then Cassidy came in.  

“Ace and Zach came back with the cake. Emma, Alex, your father’s home,” she said. We went to the kitchen, sang happy birthday, cut the cake, opened presents, and talked for another hour or so before Eliza got up.  

“This has been fun, but it’s time for you all to die,” she hissed.  

The Phantom’s Trial Chapter 5

MARIE

I woke up comfortable and disoriented before I remembered where I was. I was at my newly-found older brother’s house. It was May 17, the day before the twins’ birthday. I had never been good at giving gifts, so it always took me forever to find something to give them, but this year would be different. It was their 16th birthday. If Kaden was okay with it–and I’m sure he would be–I would ask them to move in with Kaden, Zach, and me.

I heard a knock at the door and a voice saying, “Marie, breakfast is ready.” I did the obvious thing and hid under my covers, pretending to be asleep. The door opened, and an amazing smell hit me. I sat up quickly and looked around. Kaden was standing at the door laughing.  

“What’s so funny?”

“Your hair,” Kaden said, his face turning red. I stuck my tongue out at him and hopped out of bed.  

“Did the smell of breakfast get you out of bed?”  

“Maybe.”  

“I knew it would do the trick. It always works.”  

“How did you know it would work?”  

“I used to do it to Dad on Sunday mornings. You know, you two are so much alike.”  

“Yeah, I know. Mom used to say that all the time,” I said sadly.  

“Dad used to say I was a lot like Mom.”  

“But you look so much like him,” I said.  

“We all got Dad’s looks, didn’t we?”  

“Emma and Alex have a little bit of Mom.”  

“I want to meet them.”  

“If I didn’t know them already, I would too,” I remembered my birthday present to the twin troublemakers. “The twins’ birthday is in two weeks, and I was hoping that you would be okay with them moving in with us.”  

“I thought you were against the idea of them joining the ‘team’.”  

“I thought about it overnight and decided they would be an excellent addition to this team. I’m overprotective, and I was around ten when I started hunting down Mom and Dad’s killer. They’re also smarter than I was at their age, so why not.” They were all valid reasons to let them come.   

“Then, of course, they can come and stay with us.”  

“There is also a slight possibility of their brother Ace wanting to go with them, so if that happens, can he stay too?” Kaden thought for a moment before giving me an answer.  

“I guess, but that would make sleeping arrangements harder.”  

“We can figure it out when the time comes.” Just then, Zach came into the room.  

“What’s going on?” he said sleepily.  

“We were talking about how Emma, Alex, and possibly Ace are moving in and joining us.”  

“Let’s go eat now. I don’t think you want to eat a cold breakfast,” Kaden said, leaving the room. Zach followed. I brushed my teeth and hair and left to eat breakfast.  

Breakfast tasted as good as it smelled. It was the biggest breakfast I had had since I was seven. We had bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, and hash browns. Zach had devoured half of what was on the table, leaving the other half for Kaden and me. I stuffed myself, but I didn’t eat as much Zach. Kaden ate whatever was left. No one talked. It was a comfortable silence, though.

Once we were all done with our breakfast, we went to the small, cozy living room to discuss all of the arrangements.   

“This apartment has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. Since we’ll have two, possibly three people joining us here, we’ll have to figure out sleeping arrangements,” Kaden said from his spot on the futon.  

“If just Alex and Emma come, I can share with Alex and Marie can share with Emma. If Ace comes, too, Alex and Kaden can share, Ace and I, and Marie and Emma. Does that work?” Zach suggested. He sat on the floor in front of me with my feet propped on his shoulders. I was in a blood red armchair, not paying much attention to anything.  

“That works for me. What do you think, Marie?” Kaden asked.  

“Yeah, sure. Whatever, “I said yawning.  

“Are you paying attention, Mar?” Zach asked.  

“Nope,” I coolly replied.  

“Fine. Then you’ll make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few weeks?” Kaden asked.  

“Sure, whatever.” Then his words hit me. “WAIT, WHAT?! NO!”  

“Too late. Your fault for not paying attention,” Kaden laughed.  

“Please, I can’t make anything to save my life.”  

“She really can’t, but I love watching her fail at cooking,” Zach teased. I stuck my tongue out at him and huffed at their childish teasing.

“Marie, if you got Dad’s cooking skills, I’m not letting you near the stove.”

“I did. I got food poisoning last time I made something for myself.”  

“I remember that,” Zach said.  

“We should start talking about how we’re going to find the person who’s been sending people after Marie,” Kaden suggested.  

“Security cameras, the buddy system, and we always have weapons with us,” I said, now paying attention so I wouldn’t get tricked again.  

“That’s a good idea,” Kaden said thoughtfully.  

“Yeah, but you still need to work,” Zach said.  

“I’ve survived most of my life like this, but if it makes you feel better you can work on your research and stuff there,” Kaden said.

“Alright. If a shifter comes for us while you’re working, we can take care of it on our own,” I said.  

“There’s a library right next to the Starbucks I go to before work. I’ll take you there, and you’re going to find out what this thing is, all right.” Kaden said.  

“All right.” I didn’t know what it was. There were a lot of possibilities. The one thing I did know was that the monster that killed my parents wasn’t human.  There was obviously more than one, too.  

“Let’s go. I’ll take you to the library before we go to work. Check out whatever you need to, I don’t have to go to work today, I can just call in sick,” Kaden said.   

“I want to go shopping too,” I said.  

“Shopping? Why?” Zach asked.  

“Shoes, clothes, and new weapons, of course.” I hadn’t been shopping like that since before Mom and Dad died. I sometimes snuck in and out of stores hoping I wouldn’t get caught stealing. Other times I had just enough money to get a crappy t-shirt or two, maybe a pair of jeans, and only shoes if I need it. Food was a different story. I either got food from Ace or I spent a little on a burger.  

“I think it’s a good idea. You can be a typical teenage girl and fill your closet in one shopping trip,” Kaden said.  

“Why would I do that? I like to budget my shopping trips.”  

“Fine, your budget’s $600.”  

“That’s a big budget. I already have five tops, five bottoms, and shoes. I only need a new pair of shoes and maybe a new shirt.”  

“What about weapons?”  

“I know how much a gun costs!” I yelled.  

“I know what I’m doing, too! I gave you a budget, and that’s it. No more, no less,” Kaden decided. “Anyways, a nice, strong gun can cost a lot of money. You’re going to need a big budget.”

“Fine.” We left the building and got in Kaden’s car to head to the library. It was a quiet 15-minute drive. The library was a large white building, and it looked like it held every book I could think of.   

“Here it is,” Kaden said. We went inside and immediately started searching for the mythology and lore section. When I found it, I was amazed at how big the section was. I thought about all the possibilities. The monsters always had the face of someone I cared about. I went to the S’s and found books on shifters. I knew shifters changed their face to torture people and made them go crazy by making it look like the person they steal the face of is dead. I had read books with monsters like that, but it was hard to imagine something so horrible could be real.  

“Shifters?” Zach said from behind me.  

“Yeah. I thought about what the things could be, and my mind went to shifters,” I explained. We grabbed four books each on shifters and went to the front desk where Kaden was waiting. “We got what we needed.”  

“Good,” Kaden said. We checked out the books and left. We got in Kaden’s jeep and were on our way. I was sitting alone in the backseat staring out the window when I saw her. I saw Liz. I yelped. She turned her head, pulled a knife out of her belt, and shoved it into her stomach. I suddenly felt my cheeks getting wet, and I started sobbing.  

“Marie? What’s wrong?” Zach asked.  

“I saw Liz. S-she, she took a knife out and stabbed herself,” I sobbed.  

“You know that wasn’t her. That was the monster. It’s trying to make you weak. You need to be strong,” Kaden said quickly, glancing back at me. I nodded and wiped my tears away. “I want to know more about Liz. Why is she so important to you?”  

“Liz was my best friend, she helped me when I needed her and was there for me. She died protecting me. We knew each other for three or four years before she died.”  

“I never went through something like that, so I can’t say I know how it feels and I don’t think I could imagine what it felt like,” Kaden said. We drove the rest of the way in total silence, giving me plenty of unwanted time to think. Tomorrow my little brother and sister would turn 16 and join me in tracking down our parents’ killer, find out they had an older brother, and put their lives in danger. That was the last thing I wanted, but I couldn’t break my promise to Alex and Emma.   

When we entered the Starbucks, Zach and I, with books in hand, went straight to an open table in the corner. We sat down, opened a book each, and started our search for information on these monsters. It took me maybe 15 minutes to find something that could be useful. ” ‘Shifters are human-like creatures that have different abilities that range from mind tricks to control over elements,’ ” I read out loud.  

“So, these monsters are people you’re close or related to. That is not many people,” Zach said, deep in thought.  

“All right, let’s make a list of individuals that are close to me. One column for the dead, and one for the living.” Zach got up, grabbed a napkin, pulled out a pen, and started writing.  

“Let’s start with the living.”  

“No one. I have never seen anyone that is still alive. I guess shifters can only take over a corpse. A soulless sack of meat.”

“All right. Then let’s do the dead.”  

“Mom, Dad, and Liz.”  

“What about your relatives?”  

“Relatives? I know my mom had a brother. I met him a few times, and I think he came over more when Kaden was around, but never after Alex and Emma were born. I never met my grandparents, and my dad was an only child. The only one I’m not sure about is my  mom.”  

“We can ask Kaden later. He is your big brother, after all,” Zach suggested.  

“Okay.” We kept looking for helpful information. We didn’t find anything useful for another two hours. Then Zach found some on shifter history.  

” ‘For hundreds of years shifters ruled the world, feeding on weak humans’ minds. They slowly were wiped out, and now there are only three full-fledged shifters.’ That could help if we find out which of these people are shifters.”  

“Well, I found something on how to kill them. They can’t be killed with any weapon. They can be tortured and injured but not killed by any type of weapon. Powerful shifters can kill weaker shifters with mind-related abilities,” I said. “What’s for lunch?”  As soon as I said the word lunch, my stomach started rumbling.  

“Well, we should get lunch now. Kaden gave me some lunch money before we got out of the car.” Zach got up to get lunch. We had gone here to eat together enough to know what we both got. I always got a mocha Frappuccino and a chocolate croissant, while Zach always got a strawberry banana smoothie with the same pastry I usually got. I watched Zach order and the girl at the counter flirt with him. I didn’t know what it was, but something inside of me bubbled when I looked at that girl flirt with him.

“Is that jealousy I see?” a voice said. I looked over.  

“Kaden? What are you doing here? I thought you went to work.”  

“That’s Chelsea. She flirts with any cute guy that comes around, and I was distracted, so I said I was sick and I left.”  

“Oh. I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous? Why would I be jealous? How do you know her, anyways?” I asked trying to change the subject.

“He would be jealous if someone started flirting with you,” Kaden said, ignoring my last question.

“No, he wouldn’t. Zach and I have been good friends since before we could walk or talk. I would’ve noticed by now.”  

“Marie, you’re dense. I mean, he obviously likes you. Even I can see that.”  

“Whatever, Kaden.”   

Zach came over and asked, “Why does Marie look like she wants to kill you?”  

“Because I was-.” I put my hand over his mouth and glared at my incredibly annoying brother.  

“He was annoyed,” I said to Zach with a sweet smile.  

“Okay… Well, Marie isn’t acting normal. Did you fry your brain reading about shifters, Marie?”  

“No, of course, I didn’t, idiot,” I said, wondering why idiots surrounded me.  

“Well. Here is your lunch.” Zach handed me my croissant and Frappuccino. “I may have drunk a little bit of yours,” I growled at him. He should have known by now not to take my food. I hated when people stole my stuff, especially my food.  

“Mine,” I grumbled.   

“Marie doesn’t like people taking her food. Noted,” Kaden laughed.  

“I learned that the hard way. A few years ago, she almost bit my hand off when I took some of her chocolate,” Zach said. I remembered that. I love chocolate. It’s one of the best things ever.  

“Anyways, what did you guys find out?” Kaden asked.  

“Why would the shifters want anything to do you, Marie? Why would they kill your parents?” Zach questioned.  

“I don’t know, maybe the universe hates me, or maybe someone in my family is secretly a shifter. Maybe mom or dad was a shifter, and they kept it a secret. Then when we were born, they didn’t care about us and just wanted to keep their family going because they were super powerful and needed an heir. Now that they are dead and all of us are old enough to take care of ourselves, the shifters are coming after me to make me their queen. I don’t know, but it would be kind of weird if everything I just said were true,” I said. The two idiots stared at me. “What?”  

“That’s an interesting theory,” Zach said.  

“Wait for a second, if our parents were shifters, wouldn’t their bodies disappear, or, I don’t know, they would dig themselves out of the ground?” Kaden realized.  

“You’re right, that’s going to be hard to figure out. How do we find out if your parents’ bodies disappeared?” Zach asked.

“You two can work on that and get some more research done before we go back home to drop the books off, then we can go shopping,” Kaden said getting up. “I don’t like talking about corpses. It makes me nauseous.”  

About three hours later, Kaden got out of work, and we headed back home. I sat up front with Kaden this time. I was staring at the dashboard the entire 20-minute ride home. I didn’t think about anything for too long because I didn’t want to overthink anything, like the fact that someone I trust or trusted was trying to kill me.   

When we got home, I went to my room, dumped the books on the bed, and went back down the stairs in less than a minute. I was eager to shop. I hadn’t been shopping in a while. I could only have as many clothes would fit in a bag, so I never had too many. Right now, I had five shirts and five bottoms, so of course, I was excited.  

We went to a nearby mall and were there for about two hours. I bought one pair of shorts and one pair of sneakers. I spent less than a hundred dollars, and Zach only bought a t-shirt that said ‘Normal People Scare Me.’ The weapons shop wasn’t too far away. It was a tiny shop called the Gun Shack, and of course, it was filled with guns. Zach and I got permits to carry around guns a few years ago, and Kaden had gotten one of his own when he was 18. He didn’t plan on getting a new one, so Zach and I looked for small handguns and silver hunting knives so we could at least distract or injure any shifters that came after us.  

We left the Gun Shack with two blades and a gun each. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use any of our weapons anytime soon. Emma and Alex were turning 16 tomorrow, but there was no way I was going to give them a gun. Maybe a knife or two, but no firearms until they were until 18.   

We were going to leave to see Alex and Emma tomorrow morning. Since Kaden had a car, we wouldn’t need to leave and walk all night to get there early in the morning. In a car, it would take less than an hour to get to the twin’s house. It had been almost two days since I had seen the twins, but I’m glad I left when I did.  

The Phantom’s Trial Chapter 4

MARIE

When we found out Kaden had a nice car and an apartment with food and water, Zach and I were ecstatic. It’s not everyday you learn you have a brother with a steady life that can take care of you. “If I join you, will I have to sell my house?” asked Kaden.

“Depends on how good your security is,” I answered, taking a cautious look around.

“It’s all right. If it weren’t, I would probably be dead now.”

“That’s good. Maybe this could be our headquarters,” Zach added.  

“I would be okay with that as long as we add a few cameras on all sides of the apartment. Well-hidden and two on each side, of course,” I suggested.

“Sure. I live alone and have two extra rooms, so you can stay here as long as you help pay for things,” Kaden said.

“I promised Emma and Alex a few years ago that once they turned 16, I would take them with me wherever I go. I made the promise before that happened,” I said.

“What happened?” he questioned.

“A few years ago, Marie’s best friend of three years was shot and killed. She was protecting Marie, so she has been reluctant when letting someone join her on the road,” Zach said, sparing me from the pain of remembering Liz’s death.  

“Wow, Marie, I don’t know how you were able to go through something like this without going insane. I mean, you lost our parents and were left alone for years before you met someone you could trust only for her to be shot,” Kaden praised.

“Yeah.”

“Aren’t the twins’ birthday on Wednesday?” Zach asked, obviously trying to change the subject.

“Yeah. I still haven’t gotten used to the idea of my little brother and sister being in danger every second from the moment they leave the safety of their home to the time we kill our parents’ killer…” I couldn’t continue. I felt a hand on my shoulder; Zach was behind me with a sad look on his face. His expression said, “You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to.” More like can’t.  

“Maybe you can convince them that it’s too dangerous,” Kaden suggested.  

“No. I don’t think I’ve ever broken a promise my entire life,” I said, remembering all the promises I made that led to someone dying to save me. That included Liz.  

“I’ll make you a promise, Marie. I promise you won’t have to lose any more people or go through the pain of losing someone who’s trying to protect you. I swear it,” Kaden said, pulling me in for a tight hug, the type a brother would give his favorite little sister.

“Please don’t make promises you can’t keep, Kaden, please-“

“That’s a promise I can keep.”  

I was crying. I hated crying it showed weakness, and ever since Liz died I refused to show weakness.  

“Marie, I think you should trust your brother,” Zach said. I was crying even more. I hugged Kaden tighter. “Maybe we can visit the twin troublemakers later this week.”

“I want to meet my little brother and sister. From what you’ve told me, they’d be fun to meet,” Kaden laughed. His smile reminded me of my father when we used to play games. When I lost, I always started pouting. It made him laugh every time. When he began to laugh I, of course, pounced on him like the sensible little girl I was. I sunk deep into my thoughts remembering all the good times I had with my parents.

We were playing Go Fish. I was seven, and the twins were five. My mother was making lunch while my father played with me. “Daddyyyy!” I screeched. “You’re cheating,” I was pouting. He started to laugh. I just pouted more, and Dad laughed harder. When he laughed, everything seemed better than it was. I tackled my father to the ground, making my mother laugh. I tried tickling him but failed. My dad turned the tables and next thing I knew he was pinning me to the ground, tickling me. I was laughing so hard I was crying and trying to shield myself from my father’s warm, soft hands.

“Wow, pumpkin, I thought you would’ve learned your lesson last time this happened,” Daddy said. Mom came over and sat on the ground next to us. “My darling little girl, know that we will always love you,” she said. It sounded like a goodbye, but I was oblivious to what she was trying to say.

That was the night they were killed. I didn’t realize my perfect family could vanish in an instant and turn into a horrible fight against the unknown. I still have Zach, the twins, and now Kaden. I’m glad I have them. Even Ace and his parents have helped me in ways like giving me food or helping me get a job, and sometimes clothes or even money. I love them, but I wish my parents were still here to love me and see how much stronger I’ve gotten.