An (Absolute!) Eternity on Miller Island

Content warning: violence, strong language, abuse mentioned

There was blood on the wind.

Tennessee wore the shadows like a cloak and followed her prey much more closely than better judgement might deem wise. She didn't worry, though. Frankie was halfway gone already and, in just a couple minutes, he would be finished.

Frankie had led a bad life. He was a user, a loser and an abuser. He beat up on women and children, killed men without remorse, and had a long-standing habit of transforming lost, young girls into used, old whores. Frankie had few, if any, redeeming qualities. He would not be missed and news of his death would come as a sweet release to the ears of a great multitude.

He was—simply put—the perfect victim.

When his failing footsteps put him close enough to the approaching alley, Tennessee helped him down it, face-first. She strolled after him, enjoying the chill in the air and the song of the city. She looked down on the rotund, little man bleeding on the pavement and laughed so quietly one would have had to put one's ear to her lips to have heard it. And then she took Frankie's life like most would take a step: with the thoughtless ease of having done a thing countless times before.

The morning sun would find the corpse of Fat Frankie Futz laying face-up in a filthy alley, hands crossed on his chest, silver coins glinting on his closed eyelids.

With a slow, sweet smile that had melted more hearts than she could begin to remember, she drew a line through Frankie's name in her little notebook. Another one down. So many left to go. It did not give her even a moment's concern because, after all, Tennessee had all the time in the world.

Shelby hated the city. It was loud. And it smelled. And it was full of people, and they were loud and smelled, too. None of this, of course, could be helped. She had had to come. It had taken her years, several just to realize the necessity of her excursion, but she finally made it. Her arms tightly embraced a stack of books, the large messenger bag swaying at her hip held many more. Head down, she trudged through the press of humanity on every side towards Penn Station until she could bear no more.

She stepped against the wall below a section of sidewalk bridge scaffolding to breathe. The air was unpleasant and the movement of so many people just a few feet away left her feeling a bit dizzy, but the relief was still profound. Just a moment to clear her head and she would dive back into that frenzy to complete the last leg of her journey and be well on her way home almost before she knew it. Her arms ached and she could scarcely resist the urge to open one of the volumes then and there.

It was when she started casting about for a clean place to set her burden down for a moment that she saw the man approaching. She must have looked like easy prey, this girl looking so out of place and so obviously alone.

He was skinny and unkempt with wide, staring eyes that seemed to flit about as restlessly as a pair of butterflies flying formation. His dirty blond hair was wild and greasy. His denim jacket and jeans were both darkened with grime. His shirt bore a faded Knicks logo.

Shelby took a step backwards before she even realized she had moved and was jostled from behind by a passing tourist who may have had the manners to apologize but, if one were offered, it was lost in the noise of the street. She tightened her grip on the books she bore, wanting nothing more than to turn and run but terrified at the prospect of taking her eyes off the man.

“Hello, darling,” he said, his voice higher pitched than seemed appropriate for his age, almost effeminate. His lips parted in something approximating a smile, revealing teeth darkened by rot. “Can you help me,” he asked, stepping closer, “I’ve lost my little boy back here,” he motioned behind him, “and I could really use another pair of eyes.” His hands shook. His whole body shook, the little, silver cross dangling from his left earlobe dancing.

“I’m sorry,” Shelby said, mentally cursing the waver in her voice, “but I really must be going.” Seeing no other option, she had to turn around to push her way back into the flow and away from the wild eyed man with the reedy voice.

His hand dropped on her shoulder almost immediately.

Shelby whirled on him, teeth bared, skin crinkling around the scars that criss-crossed her face as she snarled, “Don't you dare touch me!”

The man looked, for just a moment, as if he were about to start laughing but then his eyes rose to look past the fierce, little girl. The color drained from his face and he spun about and ran away at the best speed he could manage, which was considerable, shoving people out of his way as he made his escape.

Shelby shot a look over her shoulder, expecting to see the comforting form of a policeman, but there was only the endless flow of rush hour pedestrians, each one too busy with his or her own life to spare a sideways glance for a slender girl in a dress with her arms full of books. A shudder ran down her spine. What had he seen? What might still be there, so close but standing sideways to reality? She couldn't let herself think about that. The man was crazy; crazy on drugs or just crazy-crazy. There were no monsters here. At least none more monstrous than a desperate man seeking his next fix.

Shelby put her head down and rejoined the river of humanity.

Bobby was, in a word, pissed. He should never have let her go alone. Shelby may very well have been the older sister and, yes, somebody had to mind their things and, true, it would probably be easier and faster for just one of them to go, but still... This sucked.

Bobby had been bored to tears two hours ago. Now, he was about to explode. Had he the foresight to bring his charger (which Shelby had reminded him to do, twice) he could at least be screwing around on his phone. As it was, he was sitting next to one chair whose occupant was a pair of bookbags and another chair whose occupant smelled of booze but looked like a banker. He also snored loudly.

Bobby needed to stretch, to move, to do something. Bobby didn't dare get up, though. Last time he did, he ended up standing for an hour until another seat emptied up.

He checked his watch again. Almost seven. Where was she? How long could it possibly take to go six blocks from the station, have a look around, and come right back? He checked his phone. Ten percent of his battery remained. He scratched his cheek. He checked his watch. He checked his phone. He swore that he was going to kill Shelby for leaving him behind. He briefly wondered what he would do if anything had happened to her, how he would even manage to survive, but he locked the thought away almost as quickly as it had formed.

“She's fine,” he said under his breath. He repeated it until he almost believed it and managed to ignore his ringtone again.

Jake was furious. What he wanted to do was to see the cordless phone shatter against that cabinet over there. What he did do was take a deep breath and put it back on the charger. He did not like it when things changed on him. He liked it less when those changes made him worry and far less when the source of that worry was one of his kids.

Shelby and Bobby had been quite a handful over the years but, just recently, it seemed like things were starting to get a bit out of hand. After the trouble last year, Jake didn't need any more surprises from those two. This disappearing act really pissed him off, mostly because there was a time Shelby and Bobby told him everything and that time had apparently passed. Usually they answered when he called. Sometimes not, but mostly yes. They spent more and more time away from the house lately, off together exploring the island or the library, or the shallow caverns that dotted the northward cliffs near the water line. Jake could not help but be worried for them but he needed to let them be kids. It was why they moved to Miller Island in the first place. He just wished that they—especially Shelby, the older and more responsible of the two—would spare a thought for the people that they left behind during these adventures of theirs.

Jake knew, and the kids probably did too, that he could track them by their cell phones if he really wanted to. All he would have to do was call in a favor and he would have their positions in seconds. But, really, he didn't want to do that. He wanted to give the kids a little space, especially Shelby. She would be fifteen in a month's time; a young woman more and more every day. He missed the weird little girl that would ask him the strangest questions at dinner, hold his hand whenever they left the house, but time sure does fly by sometimes.

They spent two years on the private island that Elaine had arranged for them, educating the kids with a live-in tutor. It would be easier that way, Jake and Tami had decided, than trying to reintegrate the kids after homeschooling them. When they eventually decided to make the move it turned out to be a hassle anyway. There were batteries of questions and placement tests and several conversations with administrators, teachers and counselors. Especially counselors. 

Tami had wanted to stay where they were but Jake had slowly convinced her that kids needed friends and that meant moving. It had taken a lot of convincing. Jake's wife, Tamiqua, was just slightly more stubborn than her husband and had learned to argue from her own mother who had, once upon a time, been a pretty talented trial lawyer. Jake won out in the end, though.

He'd kissed her and stroked her cheek and just said, “They need a chance to just be kids, baby.” Tami had pushed him away and accused him of cheating and he'd smiled and made kissy faces until she laughed and pulled him close by his hips.

She had said, “What if the other kids are mean to her?”

Jake replied, “Shelby's tough. What can another kid do to her that's worse than she's already been through?”

Tami's eyes had welled up when she said, “Cheater,” a second time.

And so it was decided. They moved to the next, populated island into a nice house out on the coast and settled in. They got some strange looks at first, this Black couple with the very white children, one scarred and the other with a wild streak. It took time and a lot of patience and they told the same story over and over again and, eventually, most of the stares stopped; most of the whispers quieted down. Bobby made friends and Shelby didn't. Shelby spent her time in the library and Bobby spent his skateboarding all over the town.

Things were pretty okay, but Jake had been restless. He longed for his own adventures. It didn't matter to him that his friend Elaine had seen to it that Jake would never need to work again. Jason Xavier Dawes just could not sit still for long. He had gone out and pressed the flesh and got to know the right people and put his hat in the ring after getting on as a deputy. Elaine had seen to it that his records were exemplary, almost identical to the real thing, and taking on the mantle of sheriff had been almost easy, like it was meant to be.

And now, despite his political and legal power, despite the technological prowess of his former partner, Elaine, and despite what he felt were his duties as a father, Jake stood in his kitchen, hands on the kitchen island, staring down into the sink drain feeling as impotent as an infant. He didn't know where they had gone or why, when they might be back, if they were safe. He knew that they weren't answering his repeated phone calls. He knew that he wasn't going to tell Tami, even if she asked. He knew it was a gamble, maybe a dangerous one, but he was trusting Shelby to be as smart as he knew she was despite the steady downward slide of her GPA. He also knew that, when they came in the door, he would be waiting.

Tennessee watched the strange young girl work her way inside the station and stepped in not long after. 

Six hours earlier they had both turned up at the same place for, it did not seem incredulous, the same reason. She had watched the girl through the windows as Shelby moved methodically through the mess, examining papers, mail and books with equal attentiveness. Tennessee watched as Shelby had picked up a dirty shirt from the floor and smelled it, inhaling deeply, and then dropping it in disappointment.

What had their connection been? Who was this girl whose natural beauty had been so cruelly marred? Where had she come from and what was she seeking in this apartment that had stood untenanted for years? Tennessee longed for answers because any clues that girl might provide could conceivably get Tennessee a step closer to her goal. Asking would be easy because Tennessee usually asked pretty hard, but the old killer just couldn't quite bring herself to confront this child whose limp was barely noticeable, whose scars told tales of far too much worldly experience in one so very young.

Tennessee stroked the scar on her own chin as she watched Shelby begin to gather things into a pile on the table in the center of the room after having carefully cleared a spot upon it for the purpose. Tenny did not worry about being seen from her vantage on the fire escape; she was very good at not being discovered when she did not wish to be. For hours she studied Shelby's methodical examination until the girl finally stood and cast a final look about the small apartment. Shelby's eyes looked wet, as if the former tenant had meant a great deal to the girl. Shelby blinked away her tears and, with resolve and a kind of finality, she turned to the door and left.

The girl must have stopped to speak with the manager again on the way out, probably thanking the elderly lady for her understanding and time, because it took a short while for her to emerge from the building with her burden closely embraced.

The closer they got to the main thoroughfare, the more people joined them on the sidewalk, and the easier it was for Tennessee to follow Shelby unseen. When the girl stepped against the wall unexpectedly, Tennessee had almost walked right past her. When the scum had accosted the child, Tenny scared him off with a look it had taken her a couple lifetimes to develop before fading back into the flow of passers-by.

So now Tennessee stood off by a newsstand, perusing a magazine, it seemed; watching a reunion between siblings. So, there are two of them.

Tennessee flexed the muscles in her right hand without thinking about it. She sincerely hoped she would not have to destroy these children. Tennessee hated killing children.

Not the End