The Broken Juggler
Sapphira pulled on a pair of latex gloves and stared despairingly at the corpse laid out on a drop cloth. Death was a messy business.
Her sisters, bloodsucking leeches with voracious appetites for atrocities of the human flesh, had struck once more. Never had Sapphira known such ungratefulness. Ten years of her life she’d given to raising them, catering to their every whim; feeding, clothing, mothering.
And now she was left holding the corpse.
It’s my duty. I’m the eldest.
Sapphira rubbed her forehead, her brain addled with fatigue. She sat alone in the drafty workroom to the side of their family home, shrouded by disappointment and echoes of the past.
Mama had named them after jewels, but the reality was that they were the ugliest girls in town. Surely she wouldn’t have bothered with such pretty names if she’d had an inkling how they’d turn out. They were too tall—Sapphira, the shortest, was six foot six—they had awkward, long faces and were too pale and bony, with a tendency towards impropriety that had pretty much nailed the coffin lid shut on social invitations. Still, harsh treatment by the opposite sex didn’t stop her sisters going in search of male company. In fact, it only made them more aggressive.
Sapphira knelt on the floor and struck the corpse just below the knee, cleaving the leg in half. For the better part of an hour she worked slavishly at carving the body into portions. Mama had always said she had a knack for the family business, and Sapphira hadn’t disappointed her.
Lately though her work bore little resemblance to Mama’s life work: the funeral business for people’s beloved pets. Sapphira had taken over when she died, and although their little crematorium had suffered financially these last years, they were still in the black. Just.
Sapphira worked hard to keep the business afloat, but she lived in fear of her sisters’ exposure. It was the thrill of the chase, deliciously followed by the satisfaction of revenge—isolate and trap the man, torment him as he’d done to them and finally, kill him. Sapphira covered their tracks, but it was only a matter of time before they were caught.
It’s my duty. I’m the eldest.
She’d stand by them as she always did, but she was tired of being taken for granted. Disposing of human corpses was a lot more strenuous than cremating family pets.
She grunted as she leveraged her weight to cut through the bone, wishing she’d had the chain fixed on her electric saw. It would make life easier.
For now, though, she needed to keep moving. Tomorrow she was cremating the Fraziers’ St. Bernard and Mrs. Moon’s Bullmastiff and she needed to incinerate the corpse to disburse amongst the urns. The rest could go to the roses—they were sadly in need of a decent fertiliser. It was good fortune that two large dogs had passed away in the same week and Sapphira glanced in the direction of the cold room. Her sisters’ dirty little secret would be safe once again.
Sapphira heard a car approaching and looked up from the corpse, brushed her bloody hand across her forehead. She went to the window and watched as a police car coasted along the dusty driveway. Her heart skipped a beat. Officer Bain.
Few men made her heart want to burst out of her chest like Bain did. He was godlike: dark curly hair, shining smile. And he was taller than she. Normally she looked forward to him visiting. But not today. Today was clean up day.
Sapphira ripped off her gloves. She’d never wash up in time.
As the car shuddered to a halt beside her old truck, she rinsed her hands and checked her reflection in the wall mirror. No obvious signs of her current chore. She stepped into the hall, closed and locked the door that connected the workroom to the house. Silently willing her heart to calm down, she headed for the front door. Maybe Bain had actually come to see her. It might have nothing to do with her sisters. Hadn’t she covered their tracks well, provided concrete alibis? As long as she kept Bain out of the workroom everything would be fine.
She smiled and fluffed her hair, wishing she’d had more notice of his visit.
She was straightening her dress when he knocked. Nervous fingers closed around the door knob, and she pulled it open, showering him with her brightest smile. “Hello, Bain.”
“Sapphira, please,” she said in a throaty voice. Unable to resist, she stroked his arm with long fingernails, caressing his sun-tanned skin.
He took a step back, his mouth curved in a broken frown, then cleared his throat.
“What brings you out this way?” Sapphira attempted to flutter her eyelashes but only ended up blinking rapidly.
“I have a few questions for your sisters if they’re around.” Bain looked past her.
“My sisters.” Sapphira’s hand went to her stomach which was already twisted in knots. “What on earth do you want with them?”
“Just routine.” He stepped forward, and Sapphira considered slamming the door in his face. If it had been anyone else she would, but Bain had such lovely features.
“They’re not home.” It came out coldly, and she followed it with a watery smile in the hope that he wouldn’t read into it.
“I think I’ll wait then, if you don’t mind.”
She did mind. She minded very much. But it was too late to slam the door, handsome face or not; Bain had edged around her and was already inside. Flicking her hair off her shoulders, Sapphira closed the door and followed him across the room to peer into the kitchen.
Had he noticed her earrings? One of her sisters had discarded them last week, bored with them already, and Sapphira had been happy to have something new. His look, so fleeting, had revealed nothing and Sapphira stared harder, willed him to say something charming. Mama would have wept at the sight of his long lashes framing pale, searching eyes.
“Your sisters spend a lot of time together, do they?”
“And they’re together now?”
“Yes.” Sapphira nodded, pleased that just one word had come out.
“There are four of them, aren’t there?” He flipped open his notebook. “Ametrine, Opaline, Diamantina and Emeralda.”
“Yes.” Sapphira beamed with pride. It always made her smile to hear their pretty names from someone else’s mouth. Especially Bain’s.
He nodded as he wrote, and she noticed how he bit his bottom lip when he was concentrating. “You don’t know when they‘ll be back?” He glanced up briefly.
“They might be gone all day. Sometimes they don’t get home until after dark.”
And who knows what they might bring.
He stared hard at her, and she began to perspire, great droplets that broke out across her forehead and top lip. She crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping he wouldn’t see how nervous she was.
“Your mother died a few years back, didn’t she?”
“And you took over the family business?”
“Do any of your sisters work?”
“No…Mama’s insurance money…a little set aside…” Too many questions. Too invasive. Sapphira put a hand to her temple and closed her eyes.
Oh, why him?
Leave now, Bain.
She opened her eyes and her heart skidded to a halt as he turned, looked down the hall. What if he demanded to search the premises?
Bain finished writing in his notebook and snapped it shut. He scanned the room again and checked his watch. “You’ll tell them I was looking for them and that I’ll call again in the morning.”
“I’ll do that.” Sapphira wrung her hands.
Leave now, Bain. Go and leave well alone.
He left through the front door, and she stood on the threshold, silently thanking the Gods. Suddenly he stopped, and a breath caught in her throat. He turned and cut across the lawn, strode past the statue of St Francis of Assisi. Sapphira froze, staring in horror as he opened the main door of the crematorium.
Had she locked the other door to the workroom after the Frazier showing this morning?
Sapphira rubbed her temple again, anger rising.
She ran across the lawn, tripping in her haste. She righted herself and lunged drunkenly towards the door.
Have to stop him.
When she stumbled in, Bain stood in the middle of the showroom, hands on hips. He raised an eyebrow, and she realised how suspicious her behaviour must look. She smoothed her hair and smiled, then cleared her throat.
“There’s an odd smell in here,” Bain said.
“Oh, well, of course, Bain–officer, this isa crematorium. I do my best to cover the–”
“It’s more than that. It’s…I can’t quite…” He stopped and sniffed the air. Then, as though his nose was leading him, he moved towards the workroom. Sapphira made to step in front of him but it was too late. Bain opened the door.
“What the hell?” He sputtered.
“No!” Sapphira rushed forward.
Laid out on the drop cloth, like a shattered doll, was the corpse she’d been working on. Her sisters’ latest kill; most likely Ametrine’s work, if the ragged pattern of the knife wounds were anything to go by.
Bain turned, disgust and disbelief etched into his face. “What…”
Oh God. Oh God. Oh, Bain.
As if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, he stumbled closer to the corpse.
Sapphira frantically searched the room until she spied the little axe resting provocatively on her workbench.
“What have they done?” He sounded far away. “Jesus…the rumours, the stories…but…”
While he fumbled to pull his phone from his pocket, Sapphira’s brain ticked over. A burning rage filled her.
How dare he automatically blame them?
But he doesn’t blame me. He doesn’t think I’m a monster.
He’ll arrest them. He’ll take them away.
I can’t let him do that.
Sapphira snatched up the axe and swung it high, sinking it into his back. Blood spurted and splattered her dress as Bain went down. He landed heavily on his stomach, a groan gushing from his mouth. His head hit the floor with a crack.
She stepped back, scrubbed at herself, horrified at the sight of so much blood. She swayed when the strong metallic smell filled her nostrils and made her dizzy. She forced herself to concentrate, planted a foot on his lower back, and grunted as she pulled the axe out.
Bain screamed and tried to move but she brought the axe down again, slicing deeply into his neck. He spluttered, his legs and arms jerking desperately. She waited, satisfied only when he was still, then wiped her brow and stared down at his corpse.
Oh God. What have I done?
His head was turned to the side, his once-handsome face pale and silent, void of expression. On a stained drop cloth beside him lay the remains of the corpse she’d been breaking down.
And then there were two.
Oh, lordy, I have some careful planning ahead of me.
Another voice, a darker voice, taunted her.
Leave. Walk away. Let your sisters sort it out. It’s their fault anyway.
I can’t. It’s my duty. I’m the eldest.
Sapphira began to weep, her brain sluggish, refusing to cooperate. Why this? Why me? Bain’s colleagues would know he’d come out here. His car was parked out front. How would she dispose of it? And his notebook, filled with unanswered questions about her sisters.
So little time.
She needed to think. She would have to be extra careful with Bain, couldn’t afford mistakes.
The door opened and her sisters rushed in on a cloud of cheap perfume. Their eyes were wide and animated, and they were all dressed in black on black. Sapphira slid the notebook into her pocket.
“There you are,” Ametrine snapped. “You weren’t in the house. What are you doing out here?”
“Working.” Sapphira scrubbed the tears from her face.
“Did you sharpen my knives?” Opaline demanded. “They’re blunt. I’ve been asking you for weeks.”
“Mine too.” Ametrine smirked. “It makes my job harder.”
“Did you finish my dress yet?” Emeralda whined. “I’m sick of wearing the same thing. You said it would be finished by now.”
Sapphira looked up from the floor. Did they not see that she was busy? Did they not see what they had caused?
What have I done?
I did this.
It was me this time.
But they had caused it with their unquenchable thirsts.
“Sapphy, are you listening?” Emeralda pouted.
“Of course she’s not listening,” Ametrine said. “She’s off in her own world again.”
“What?” Sapphira asked.
“I’m hungry,” Diamantina whined. “What’s for lunch?”
“I don’t have time for lunch,” Sapphira snapped. “Look around you.”
“What’s with you?” Opaline stared. “All we did was ask if lunch was ready. Can you hurry it up, we’re going out again this afternoon.”
“No.” Sapphira looked up. “Not today. I need your help.”
“No you don’t,” Ametrine said. “Looks like you have everything under control.”
“Nothing is under control.” Sapphira shook with long suppressed rage. “I hope you’re satisfied.”
“Of course we are.” Diamantina smirked. “We’re always satisfied.”
The fire in Sapphira’s belly flamed higher.
“You’ve made a mess here.” Emeralda turned her nose up. “Who’s he?”
“This mess…” Sapphira took a second to calm down. “This mess happened because Bain saw the fallout from your handiwork. He saw…” Sapphira stopped, took a deep breath and said quietly, “I need you to help me lift him.”
“I can’t.” Ametrine held up her hands. “Just had my nails done.” She turned and walked out of the room. The others followed, four peas in a pod, their boots clop-clopping on the floor.
Sapphira stared at the corpses—one partially cut up, the other bent at an odd angle, the axe still embedded in his neck. Her sisters’ laughter filtered through from the other room.
Hadn’t she rescued them from their stupid messes, solved their problems, cleaned up after them?
Should she let them suffer for their sins?
No. I have to protect them.
It’s my duty. I’m the eldest.
Resigned to her fate, she searched through her keys for one to the basement padlock . She hadn’t been down there in years, hated the thought of it, but it wouldn’t do to keep Bain up here.
She sighed and set about her work. It was difficult to open the trapdoor and she hunched over it. The disused hinges refused to give at first, so it took several attempts before she yanked it open. Musty, stale air assaulted her nose as she dragged Bain’s corpse to the top of the stairs. She was about to lift him when she tripped over his foot.
There was nothing to grab onto and she fell backwards, her arms flapping desperately. A few quick, terrifying seconds of freefalling, only air beneath her, then her shoulder connected with the stairs. She hit the timber hard and spun over and over like a ragdoll, her head knocking on each step as she fell closer to the basement floor, swallowed by the darkness.
Time slammed to a halt as she lay immobile, pain shrieking through her body. Only the light at the top of the stairs gave her comfort. She opened her mouth to scream for help but the words stubbornly refused to come.
Hear me. Please hear me.
Her sisters’ voices, near but so far away, laughing, arguing. They’d miss her soon. They’d need something. They’d come looking.
Or will they?
She clawed frantically at the floor, her nails breaking. Fresh pain, dark and harassing. Stuck. In the basement. In the dark.
Their voices again, louder. Were they were coming into the workroom? Sapphira opened her mouth and found her voice.
“Ametrine.” It came out as a strangled whisper. “Opaline. Diamantina. Emeralda.”
“Anyone? Hear me?”
Her voice was strangely low, like someone had turned the volume down. She tried to breathe deeper but it hurt so much, like something sharp digging into her lungs.
Minutes, maybe hours passed while she sweated in agony on the dusty floor, tried in vain to edge closer to the stairs.
Then finally, voices close by.
“Sapphy, are you down there? Did you iron my new dress? I can’t find it.”
“Is she down there? Sapphy?”
They wouldn’t come down. They were frightened of the basement, of the dark.
“Help,” she croaked. Saliva collected in the corner of her mouth, spilled onto her lip and dripped onto the floor.
They didn’t answer, but she saw shadows on the workroom ceiling through the trapdoor, the movements lazy, unhurried.
“Help me.” Her voice grew weaker. Surely they’d do something.
Gradually, the shadows receded, the voices became distant until only patches of words were audible. Sapphira tried to listen. Focus.
“Not going down…”
“…she’ll come up…”
“…serves her right…”
“…all her fault anyway…”
“…she’ll fix it…”
How could they leave her? She closed her eyes as another wave of pain washed over her. She tried to move again, get to the base of the stairs, but it was futile. So cold, but drenched with sweat. Why weren’t they coming?
They won’t come.
They’d left her alone and broken.
Oh God, the pain.
They can’t leave me here. They won’t survive without me. Who will keep their secret?
What if I get the blame?
Dirty little vultures.
They won’t come.
They’d all be exposed. Her sisters wouldn’t have a clue how to clean up. Their terrible secret would be discovered.
And me. Down here.
It didn’t matter. She still gripped Bain’s notebook, filled with details. She almost smiled.
Then a sudden, darker thought occurred—a long buried memory, pushed to the deepest recesses of her mind. Five little girls watching, terrified, as their mother had hacked their father into pieces, ending his sorry existence. Five little girls huddled together silently as their mother triumphed over their father after years of abuse.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, Sapphira’s watery gaze settled on a pile of bones a few feet away. A fractured image resurfaced: Mama dumping Papa’s broken body in the cellar. Sapphira remembered her voice, barely above a whisper as she’d told people he’d deserted them, when all these years he’d lain undiscovered beneath the trapdoor.
I tried to keep your secret.
Danielle Ferries resides in tropical Queensland, Australia, but prefers dark and dreary weather. She loves Gothic horror, collecting creepy dolls and Hitchcock. By day, she works at a law firm and by night she’s working on a Gothic suspense novel. You can find her at: www.danielleferries.com
© 2012 All rights reserved Danielle Ferries.