The phone rang just as Helen was ushering Corey out the door the following morning. Corey’s steps were lagging as she followed her mother out the door for the third day of school. She didn’t want to go. Something bad had happened. Inside, Andy answered the phone and she could hear his “hello” ring out through the house.
“Hurry up, dear,” Helen said, smiling encouragingly. “Let’s not make you late today.”
Hades forbid I be late, Corey thought. She immediately blinked just after she thought that, wondering just where the Hades part had come from. She was familiar with Hades; her biological mother had read a few mythological stories to her when she was young, before her father had thrown out the book. But Helen and Andy took her to church every Sunday.
“Helen!” came Andy’s voice. “Come back in and bring Corey!”
“What for?” Helen called back.
“The school just called. School was cancelled for the day.”
“Come back in so I can tell you guys.”
Helen looked at the car keys in her hand before shifting her gaze to a waiting Corey. She smiled. “I guess you don’t have to go to school today. Though I wonder why. That’s strange. It’s not even snowing.”
Both Helen and Corey looked up at the bright, cloudless sunny morning. It was slightly cool, but they could already tell it was going to be a warm day. It was, after all, only late August.
“Coming, Andy!” Helen called.
Corey turned and walked back towards the house, Helen following behind. They found Andy still in the kitchen. He was dressed for work in dark pants and a button down white dress shirt, red tie running down his chest. He was standing by the counter, hand still on the phone that sat there. He looked up as soon as Helen and Corey walked in and moved to the kitchen table.
“I think you had better sit down,” he said solemnly.
Corey didn’t have to be told twice. She had an odd feeling she knew what her adoptive father was about to say and she knew it would definitely be a good idea if her mother sat. She looked up at an immobile Helen, who was staring at her husband with a curious look. She looked like she hardly believed Andy was telling the truth. After all, Andy was fond of playing tricks on his wife.
“Helen,” Andy said, voice quiet, yet demanding. “Sit.”
Slowly, Helen moved to the table and took her seat. She folded her hands on top of the table and looked at her husband expectantly. Corey just patiently waited, swinging her legs under the table. She was considering humming to herself if someone didn’t start talking soon. She was starting to get bored and was just waiting for Andy to finally spill the unfortunate news.
“Corey did you know Sandra and Patricia?”
The girl nodded. “I knew Sandra. I don’t think I knew Patricia. Why?”
“Corey, honey, you won’t be seeing them again.”
“Why not?” she asked innocently.
Andy took a deep breath and met his wife’s equally questioning eyes. “The girls’ parents found them this morning. They were both in bed, but appeared to be, um, dead.”
Helen gasped and clasped a hand to her mouth. “Andy, are you sure?”
Solemnly, he nodded. “That was Ms. Sanders. She’s calling all of her students’ parents to let them know school has been cancelled due to her students’ unfortunate and, frankly, very bizarre deaths. The police are currently swarming around both homes and will be contacting everyone in the school. They also fear a homicidal maniac might be on the loose. That’s why all students have been instructed to stay home all day.”
“But why?” Helen asked. “Do they really think some crazy person is running around town? Or do they think one of the kids did it?”
Andy shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope not.”
Corey had, until this point, been staring intently at both of them as they spoke. Now Andy turned to her, drawing Helen’s attention. Her father gave her a gentle smile and patted her clasped hands.
“Why don’t you go to your room and put your things away? I’m going to take the day off because of this and we can all play games today.”
Corey nodded and hopped off her chair. She grabbed her backpack and retreated from the kitchen, but stopped as soon as she turned the corner, wondering what her parents were going to talk about now. She didn’t want to miss anything.
“Is it bad, Andy?” Helen asked softly, her voice just barely reaching Corey’s ears.
“I’m afraid so,” Andy said on a heavy sigh. “Ms. Sanders said the police told them both bodies were brutally attacked. It looked like an animal had gotten to them. But none of the windows had been smashed and the doors were intact. No one knows how someone got in.”
“Sounds like the way Corey’s parents had been killed,” Helen said in a hushed voice.
“Yeah,” Andy said quietly. A moment passed and then Corey could hear him moving around. “I wonder if it means anything. It is kind of spooky.”
“And don’t forget,” Helen said, “she grew up just a few miles from here. That’s why we moved here, to maybe get her to open up a little more.”
“I don’t think it’s helped much.” Andy sighed heavily. “The police will be by later. We should probably tell them about Corey’s biological parents if they don’t already know.”
Corey heard a chair scrape against the tile floor and quickly dashed for her room. She quietly closed the door and put her backpack down. She looked around and spotted the teddy bear sitting at the low, round table filled with art supplies. Quietly, she hurried over to her bear and grabbed it tight. Clasping the bear to her chest, she walked over to the bed and climbed up to settle herself into the pillows and stuffed animals. She buried her face in the bear’s fur and held tight. She had wanted something bad to happen to Sandra and the redhead, but she hadn’t wanted them dead. And because of the way they had died, all the other kids were probably going to avoid her and whisper behind her back even more now.
The police didn’t come by until the afternoon. Helen, Andy, and Corey had been engaged in a game of memory and Corey was winning. The doorbell startled everyone, especially after the news they had received that morning.
“I’ll get it,” Helen said, jumping up lightly.
Helen hurried over to the door while Corey continued to take her turn. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her father fidget and move around slightly.
“Mrs. Marks?” a deep voice Corey recognized asked.
Corey’s head popped up as her mother answered in the affirmative. A minute later, Detective Skyler Adams and a couple of officers were striding into the living room. His eyes lit on Corey and he stopped short. Corey scrambled to her feet and walked over to him. The detective smiled and knelt down onto one knee.
“Hello, again,” he said, smiling. “How have you been doing?”
“Very well, thank you,” Corey said politely. “Do you know anything about my parents?”
“I’m sorry, little one. We haven’t gotten any further in their case. But maybe you can help us.”
Corey nodded. “About my classmates? Andy said Ms. Sanders said Sandra and Patricia were killed the same way as my parents.”
“That’s right. It’s because of that that we think you might be able to help us.”
Corey shook her head. “I don’t know anything.”
“Were you and your parents here all night?”
“We were here,” Andy said as he walked over to join everyone else. He held out his hand. “Andrew Marks.”
The detective rose and shook his hand. “Detective Skyler Adams. This is Officer Wales and Officer Johnson. Do you have anything you can share about the girls’ families or anything you know? We’re especially interested in your family considering Corey’s biological parents were killed the same way and the girls were her classmates.”
“I’m very sorry,” Andy said. “We don’t know anything, but if we come across anything, we’ll let you know right away.”
Skyler nodded and held out his card. “If you think of anything, give me a call.”
Andy nodded and took the card. Then Helen escorted the men back to the door while Andy turned the card over in his hands. Corey only clasped her arms around her chest and hugged herself tightly.