Authors: A.C. Dillon
Change Of Season
Change Of Season
Change Of Season
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 A.C. Dillon
All rights reserved.
Change Of Season
memory of N.
Worn high top Chucks slapped and skidded along the mildewed concrete as she ran through the pitch-black tunnel, chest heaving as she gasped for air. Small puddles of condensation from machinery and leaking pipes splashed against her bare ankles, trickling into her socks, warm and runny. Blood, too, ran down into her shoes, sticky and thick, the wounds on her knees opening wider with each furious planting of foot. Behind her, another chest strained for air as fists pumped at his sides, propelling him forward, unrelenting.
He was catching up. She was going to die.
A solitary neon bulb flickered violently overhead, casting strobe-like beams of jaundiced light towards a side tunnel. It was her destination, her one chance at survival. Turning sharply, she dodged a chunk of red brick, nearly twisting her ankle in the process. She could hear him curse under his breath, and a small part of her crowed victoriously at this minute achievement.
Keep running, keep running, keep fucking running
. Her scraped palms seized the handle at the end of the corridor roughly, yanking it open and thrusting herself into the labyrinthine tunnels beyond. If she survived this, she vowed, she would resume her abandoned jogging regimen–hell, she’d run a goddamn marathon every month, if only she could live.
She dared not look over her shoulder at her mystery assailant; it was the sort of move in horror movies that sent girls tripping over their own two feet and she couldn’t afford such dire miscalculations. The sound of his feet stomping behind her and the shadows were plenty. She was pretty sure, from the eerie images cast sporadically along the walls, that he held a knife. That was all she needed to know.
The building above was silent, deserted. She had to get outside, had to start screaming up at the residences. Someone had to hear her. Someone had to save her. The cacophony of his pursuit grew louder, and she began to panic, her pounding heart lodged in her throat.
Get out! Get out of here!
With a frustrated grunt, she pushed harder, rounding the corner and taking the last six steps to freedom in twos.
Her right foot caught on the edge of the final step, sending her sprawling forward. She caught herself on her left wrist and yowled in pain as something cracked in her hand. She’d scrambled quickly to her feet, had dove at the crash bar leading to the school grounds, but it wasn’t enough.
With a swift motion, he seized her by the throat, yanking her back into the dim lighting of the stairwell.
She kicked and flailed, but it was useless; his hold tightened and her vision spun, spent lungs depleted immediately of air. Her fingers pawed against his leather jacket, useless gestures as she fought against the looming darkness. Instinct engaged: her knee swiftly met his groin, sending him stumbling backward in a flurry of obscenities. She fell out onto the frigid earth, half-crawling in the snow as the crisp air made her breathing seize up. She opened her mouth to scream, but only a hoarse hissing escaped her parched lips.
He’d choked the voice out of her.
She didn’t make it far on her wobbling legs and the tiny bursts of oxygen she managed to force down her trachea. He fell upon her viciously just beyond the rear entrance to Ashbury, striking her in the left temple with something cold and hard. Streaks of colour shot across her vision as he rolled her over, marring his features. Even still, in the light of the full moon, she knew her attacker’s face. Bile rose within her as he caressed her cheek softly, shaking his head slowly.
“Why do you always run from me? We could be so happy, Mary...”
Her lips silently formed her answer:
As his hands seized her by the throat anew, her ears exploded in angry noises, sirens and bells whistling. He startled, for a moment stepping into the role of prey. Curses flew from his mouth, his words foreign to her as he dragged her quickly to the propped door she often used to return to her room undetected after hours.
“No time,” he murmured through the sirens. His breath was sickly sweet, dead flowers and damp wood chips.
She blacked out at some point, coming to in her room – no longer her sanctuary. The wailing sirens grew louder, albeit muffled in watery white noise in her head. Her eyes stung as tears streamed down her cheeks. In her head, she demanded answers from him, begged for mercy, but he remained oblivious to her. Suddenly, his hand was yanking her by her hair, heels thumping softly along the wood floors as they approached the center of the room. A gurgle was her only means of resistance as softness enveloped her clavicle, then drew taut around her pale neck. She understood him when her feet met the seat of the desk chair, and her eyes narrowed, fury rising within her.
They’ll believe I did it, and he knows it
“Sorry, Mary,” he apologized in monotone.
Fuck you! I’m not Mary!
she screamed inwardly as the undertow snared her ankle, dragging her deeper into the murky waves sloshing in her skull.
As he kicked the chair from beneath her sneakered feet and snapped her neck, she vowed vengeance.
Change Of Season
Toronto; September 5
The house hummed with activity, a flurry of feet up and down the winding cherry wood stairs as the anxious woman gathered soothing and familiar trinkets, tossing them into an open backpack. The man smiled reassuringly as he passed her, his own fears swallowed down as he reviewed the orientation package and student guide. His wife had second-guessed this decision frequently over recent weeks – hushed whispers in bed, so as not to disrupt the tenuous hold sleep held over their progeny.
“I don’t like this. How is she going to heal there?” she would often protest.
He’d shrugged each time, offering reassurance. “Nothing else has worked, and her doctor thinks a change in scenery will do her good. If she’s on board, and this is what Autumn wants, I’m not going to discount it just yet.”
“Sarah, if she shows any sign of deterioration, we’ll pull her immediately. Legally, she’s almost an adult now. We have to give her some control and say.”
Neil stepped out onto the porch, eyeing the ash-coloured sky. Not exactly the auspicious start he’d hoped for, but absolutely typical for Labour Day weekend in Toronto. Perhaps normalcy boded well in its own way? With a shrug, he jogged out to the crimson Ford Windstar in the driveway and threw open the door. He paused before turning over the engine, noticing a bedraggled sheepdog on the sidewalk nearby. Its white paws were toying absently with the carcass of a dead bird. Somehow sensing an audience, the dog’s eyes wandered from its macabre new toy to gaze back at him.
No, not an auspicious start at all
Neil suddenly needed a drink.
Three storeys above, a slender woman stared at the dampened fur of the dog. Her fingers hovered over the keys of her laptop, awaiting her meandering mind’s attention as she sighed in frustration.
Rain. Of course it’s raining.
The stray dog glanced up at her window, its own expression seemingly exasperated with the dreary weather, and Autumn snorted.
Don’t look at me, buddy
. Emerald irises returned to the open Word file on screen, digits dashing along the keys as she found new inspiration for her “assignment“:
Defined as the echoing of events transpiring through setting and weather in a play.
Shakespeare was famous for this shit.
But to me, it’s just pathetic.
Music is the soundtrack of our lives, of our misery.
Ever notice how many of us turn to music in our times of despair?
Could anyone blame us, really, for finding the poetic words and soulful strains of a sad song more palatable than weeping and screaming?
Think about it. Watch a movie. Watch reality unfold around you. When people are utterly in despair, they tend to run off alone. We all have our safe place to cry and rage. We don’t really want company; we want understanding. We want someone to articulate what we cannot even begin to say, as our hearts bleed black and blue within our heaving chests. We lose language in our purest personal hells; music gives us our language back, in an eloquent and succinct package.
Johnny Cash knew exactly what he was doing when he covered Hurt by Nine Inch Nails:
he was singing his last words, anticipating what was soon to come.
This is so cliché. Poor little messed up girl goes to expensive boarding school for special help... isn’t that enough of a cliché in and of itself?
Autumn frowned, her right hand drifting up to tug at the sleek, layered red locks tied at the nape of her neck. This was ridiculous. What the hell did this therapist bitch expect her to write?
was off the table for discussion, as far as she was concerned. Was she supposed to make up childhood traumas to scrutinize?
A pair of children skipped along the sidewalk in matching PVC raincoats – hers in Barbie pink, his in an Army sort of green – and Autumn hit save on her document. Perhaps the campus would inspire further introspection worthy of this stranger’s time. Perhaps she’d just bullshit a few lines from Susanna Kaysen’s memoir and see if anyone noticed. A plaintive mewing shattered her rage-laced reverie and Autumn’s eyes skirted the beige carpet, softening as she found the source.
“Pandora,” she cooed, swivelling in her chair and patting her lap. “My favourite familiar.”
The petite black cat leaped gracefully, landing on her legs with a purr. Her front paws kneaded the denim-clad thighs gently before she settled onto her master’s lap with a satisfied chirp. Autumn’s hand stroked her head lovingly, a small smile crossing her lips.
“You’re too cute, Pandora. I wish they’d let me bring you to this place. It would be a lot less lonely.” Pandora squeaked in reply, rolling her head to the side and exposing her chin for scratching, “It’s bad enough I won’t have Miraj, or even Heather...”
As daunting as it seemed now, Autumn knew that enrolling in Casteel Preparatory Academy was the best decision. The headmistress had made it clear to her frantic mother that the campus was very secure. Surely, there was no way that
No. Not going there
Footfalls on the stairs alerted her to impending intrusion. Shutting the laptop roughly, Autumn lifted Pandora into her arms, cradling her as if she were an infant.
. Her lips pressed gently to the back of the feline’s tiny head, eliciting a mew of contentment. Pandora was her rescue from the Humane Society and they had always been bonded; how the animal would take her departure was one of her few genuine concerns about moving away.
A gentle rapping upon her door signalled her mother slipping into the dimly-lit room. Her hands were twisted together, the sleeves of her cashmere sweater oversized, the blue material clinging to her palms.
“Yeah, I just have to toss the laptop into the suitcase,” Autumn mumbled. “Are you sure that I can’t take Pandora? I could smuggle her in my backpack.”
“I checked sweetheart, and they’re strict on the no pets deal. Allergies and all that.” Her mother leaned against the doorframe, surveying the barren dresser and nightstand wistfully. “This place is a ghost town.”
Autumn ignored her mother’s remarks, rising to her feet slowly so as not to disrupt Pandora’s impromptu nap. “Hermione got to take a cat to Hogwarts. Casteel may be expensive, but it’s not going to teach me magic. The least they could do is let me bring my cat.”
“You could still change your mind,” her mother offered hopefully.
No, I can’t change it
, Autumn thought, her heart pounding.
It’s for the best. Not like anyone at Jarvis gives a shit about me anymore
. Heather hadn’t even called to say goodbye, but Autumn truly could not blame her. She had perfected isolation in the last year, nestled safely behind the walls of her heart. No one could be trusted. No one who knew the truth could be safe.
“I’m going, Mom.” Plunking the laptop into her suitcase, Autumn zipped it haphazardly while Pandora protesting at the jostling. “Can you bring that down? Pandora’s not going to be very happy.”
“I got it,” her mother acquiesced.
It was scarcely a whisper, her reply, the sickening reality crystalline as her mother carried her most beloved worldly possessions down the stairs to be loaded into the van. This cradling of her cat was a farewell gesture of comfort for both of them. Cotton-mouthed anxiety rolled over her in a tidal wave, and Autumn bit her lip to hold the tears at bay. It was for the best of all of them that she leave. Just one more girl interrupted, shipped off to be forgotten.
She took the steps slowly, Pandora rumbling softly as she snuggled her against her breast. Family portraits lined the off-white walls: school portraits and Christmas greetings with fake nature backgrounds and often forced smiles. Near the bottom she paused, staring at grade nine’s annual mugshot. Her fingertips traced the shy smile, framed by shining rust-coloured locks dusting the black blouse she wore, but it was the eyes that kept her rapt. Innocence lay within them.
Autumn missed it dearly.
“Sweetheart?” Her father stepped into the foyer, startling her slightly. “We need to get on the road now.”
“Yeah, one sec.” Autumn’s lips pressed to Pandora’s head, her arms squeezing her tight against her pounding heart. “You be good, my little boo. Don’t be too naughty, and don’t let them tell you that my bed isn’t yours now.” Tiny eyes stared in panic as she placed her pet upon the stairs, scratching behind her ears. “Love you, Pandora.”
“She’s going to be a mess without you. Remember that week you spent with Heather’s family in Montreal?”
Autumn nodded, her chest aching as the cat meowed forlornly, circling her ankles. “Give her extra treats – the salmon ones she likes. Oh, Pan...” Bending forward, she kissed the feline’s forehead one last time then reached for the purse dangling from the banister.
I have to do this, Pan
, she thought.
I’m keeping you safe, too
“C’mon, Autumn,” her father urged quietly, his arm wrapping around her shoulder.
Eyes directed forward, Autumn allowed herself to be steered out onto the porch, the thud of the door behind her erecting a wall around her battered heart.
No turning back now.
With a huff, she slid into the backseat, buckled herself in and glanced back towards her home.
A slender black cat reared up against the living room window, front paws pressed to the pane.
The thumping of rain against the windows of the van seriously hampered her enjoyment of her music, the jealous droplets competing with the drum lines from the Apple ear buds. Growling low, Autumn edged the volume higher.
Whatever; Mother Nature is a woman, too. Maybe she ran out of Midol.
Turning back to the small leather bound notebook on her lap, the micro-point pen flew along the pages, a mental file dump in progress.
It’s the end of Labour Day weekend in Toronto, and as usual, the weather is shit. I seem to have this foolish wish for a different scenario year after year, but it never bears fruit. I should know better; I’ve seen what dreams and wishes get you, and none of it involves a Prince Charming and a glass slipper custom-fitted to my dainty foot.
Florence + The Machine is just winding into one of my favourites, “Kiss With A Fist“, when my mother starts yapping at me about an hour after we’ve left Chez Brody. I debate ignoring her, feigning innocence by virtue of the iPod in my hand, but ultimately decide hitting pause is less drama. I love my mother very much, contrary to my behaviour; I just want to be left alone with my nausea and not-so-cheery playlist. I’m trying to don the mental armour I will desperately need, and she is counterproductive to that.
“I asked you if you were still sure about this decision,” my mother repeats.
I shrug. “Sure, Mom. I told you that I wanted a change of scenery, and I meant it.”
What I didn’t tell my mother two months ago, while we perused the information package from Casteel Preparatory Academy, was the impetus behind my congenial disposition, nor could I ever tell her. The less she knew about the lingering threat to my life, the better.
“Because we could always keep you in Jarvis–“
“Mom,” I reply firmly, “No way. Look, we just passed the sign for Erin Mills Parkway. It’s stupid to debate this now.”
Her face falls and I immediately regret my tone. I regret it even more when my father jumps into the middle of it, his own frazzled nerves rubbed raw.
“Autumn, she was just asking a simple question. We’re going to miss you, believe it or not.”
I sigh, feeling contrite. “I know that, Dad. I know you both mean well. I’m just nervous, I guess. I haven’t gone to school without Heather since grade three.”
This seems to satisfy them, and I am free to un-pause my music. Heather is–was?–my best friend of eight years, ever since some idiot boy tried to push her off a swing and claim it. I threw sand in his face and earned a serious time out, along with a loyal friend. Although, in recent months, things have been strained between us, mainly because I’ve taken to ditching classes and hiding near the beach with Miraj. Heather tries, but she doesn’t know the whole story, so she can’t possibly fathom why I’m a miserable bitch now.
My parents are equally flustered with my “poor academic performance” and “lack of socialization“; it’s why they’re shipping me off to boarding school. I honestly had no clue such things existed in Canada, let alone schools with programs for troubled teens. I’m really hoping the joint is less horses and boot camp love and more like that flick Piper Perabo did way back, when Mischa Barton didn’t look like a coke whore. I’m blanking on the name of it, but it’s Canadian and filled with lesbian affairs, confused sexuality and actual sword fights. Oh, and a suicide.