The story so far:
I closed my eyes and let the warmth of the shower wash over me. My night had been a restless one - it was hard to get Jake's words out of my head. He's a kid, I told myself, he's being imaginative. Just ignore him.
But from some banished place in the back of my mind, my husband's voice echoed, and I could see him tacking one of Lucy's finger paintings on the wall. "You know, Erika," he said, "kids see so much that they don't get credit for. They don't always know how to explain what they see, or what it means, but they see so much."
A knock on the door jerked me out of my thoughts.
"Just a moment," I called as I stepped out of the shower.
After getting dressed as fast as I could manage, I opened the door to see Amy sitting on the stoop.
"Amy. Of course." I suddenly remembered my invitation from the day before. "You've come for lunch."
"It was today, right?" Amy asked.
"Of course, I'm sorry, I just lost track of time. But, come in, come in, I'll heat us up some soup."
Amy perched on the edge of her chair and sipped the steaming soup. Sitting in my kitchen, she suddenly seemed so much younger than she did in the classroom, a little girl lost in the big world. She looked up at me and smiled tentatively. For a brief moment I wondered Lucy would have been like if she had grown to be Amy's age. Would they have been friends?
"Ms. Burns? Are you okay?"
"Yes, of course. My thoughts are just running away from me. How are you feeling, Amy? Still a bit sick?"
"No, well, my Mom says no." Amy replied.
"Well, how do you feel?" I asked.
"Staying up late watching movies, maybe?"
"No. Just staring at the sky." Amy suddenly looked grave, like she had just lost something of great value. I got out of my chair and knelt down.
"Amy," I asked, as gently as I could, "what's going on?"
"I don't -" Amy started. Tears began to well up a bit in her eyes, and she turned away, overwhelmed.
"Take your time, sweetheart. You can tell my anything. My job is to help you."
"But it's, it's so stupid."
"What's so stupid?"
"Everything. What's going on, I don't understand. I just - I can't fall asleep at night anymore. I haven't been able to since before Halloween. My Mother, she says, she says that's normal. That this happens to girls my age. And my eyes. They - they don't work right anymore. Things are brighter, always, even at night, I can see things, bright. It hurt, at first, but I'm getting used to it."
"Amy," I began, carefully. She didn't appear to be lying, but it simply wasn't possible that had gone that long without sleep. As for the eye condition, I had never heard of such a thing, but there must have been some medical explanation. "Amy, surely you must have slept, at least for an hour or -"
"No!" she interrupted forcefully. "No. I haven't. And my Mom says it's normal, but I know it's not, I know. This doesn't happen in movies, or in books, or on T.V. There's something wrong with me, I know it. I'm turning into a monster."
"A monster? Amy, of course you're not going -"
But I was interrupted again. This time by a sharp rap on the door. "Amy? Amy Kathryn Rivera, are you in there?"
Amy rose, started and scared. "That's my mother," she said. "I have to go. Bye Ms. B."
She ran to the door. Amy's mother stood on the stoop and stared at me. "Ms. Burns," she said. "I think it's highly inappropriate that you would invite my daughter to eat with you without consulting her mother first."
"Mrs. Rivera, I'm sorry, I-" I began.
"Come, Amy." Amy's mother grasped her hand and marched away. Amy followed and waved sadly at me just before getting into the car.
I stood in the doorway, dumbfounded. What had just happened? Was Amy being abused? That might explain some of what she had to say. It was a common technique for child abusers to deprive their children of food, or sleep. But I had seen no evidence of abuse before this.
Frustrated and feeling a bit helpless, I grabbed my coat and set out for a walk.
It had rained the night before and the ground was soft beneath my feet. The cold air felt sharp and invigorating against my face. I wandered over by the cemetery and looked at the old tombstones. There was something comforting about the dead. Like me, they were silent mostly, watching from where they lay. Like me, they were shells now, all memories and no life. And like me, they had lost something dear.
I searched for the one I had found yesterday: Rachel Lynn Baker. Only three years old when she died. I leaned over and kissed the black stone. Wherever she was, I wished her well. I continued down the line of stones.
Mark Thomas, beloved son and brother, 1960 - 1978. Only 18 when he died.
Janice Nelson Johnson, light of our lives, forever mourned, 1967 - 1987. Only 20 when she died.
Denice Leslie Ann Richman, 1970-1985. Only 15 when she died.
Henry Lee, only sixteen. Mary Janet Robertson, only twelve. Paul Downes, only 22. Victor Thomas Edson, only 13.
What was going on? Why all these young people buried? And where were the headstones of the 70 year olds, the 80 year olds, the beloved grandmothers and grandfathers? All these tombstones read: "beloved son, daughter, brother, sister, friend."
My breathing sped up, and a churning began in my stomach, like I had eaten something that disagreed with me. I jogged down the rows of the cemetery, subtracting dates over and over. I ran back to make sure.
Finally, out of breath and pants covered in mud, I slid down and leaned on Rachel Lynn Baker's tombstone. No one buried in the town cemetery was over the age of thirty.