The tears finally came, crushing the breath from her with a surprising intensity. Her dad didn’t say anything, but she felt the car pulling off the road, and then he hauled her close to him. She cried like that, leaning against him inside of the parked car, for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes. She didn’t care that they were parked along a busy highway, or that she was clinging to him like she was a child. She let herself sob, crying for herself and crying too for the girl in the water, and for whomever that girl had left behind in the wake of her tragic death.
It bothered her to know that the girl had been murdered. That she, and Jay, and her father, and her uncle all knew, based on the echo that Violet had discovered, but that they couldn’t tell anyone. She was sure the police would figure it out, that they would find evidence to support that fact, but still, she hated knowing for certain. She hated lying about it, and forcing others—those she cared about most—to keep her secrets.
She held on to her father, even when the tears were nearly gone. She felt safe in his arms. “I don’t want to be able to do that anymore,” she mumbled hoarsely into his damp shirt. “I don’t mind the animals, I can’t explain why, I just don’t. But why did I have to see…that…her?” She whispered the last word so softly that she wasn’t even sure he’d heard it.
He patted her back, and when he finally spoke Violet jumped a little. Every muscle fiber in her body felt bundled and tight.
“I’m sorry, baby,” Greg Ambrose said, his voice sounding strained. “I would do anything in the world to protect you from seeing things like that, your mother and I both. We never wanted you to go through anything like this again.” He pulled her away from him so that he could look at her. His eyes were red.
“When you were little, we were worried when you first started finding dead animals in the woods. That was when we knew you’d inherited Grandma Louise’s special skill. We were afraid of what that would do to you, how it would make you feel to be drawn to so much death. We knew there was nothing we could do to stop you from sensing them there, but we used to try to discourage you from digging them up—we would try to distract you with diversions and bribes. We offered you gum and candy; we would even ask if you wanted to go for ice cream instead of digging up one of those animals. You were so little, but even then you were determined…you were so stubborn. And you would go out of your way to get to them, not satisfied until they’d had a proper burial. It seemed to give you a sense of…serenity, I guess, to know that they were taken care of. You even used to make up funny stories about those poor little lost creatures of yours. Remember Bob, the squirrel banker who forgot to pay his electric bill so he froze to death?” He laughed and wiped her cheek with his thumb. “I was always afraid we were going to get a call from the school psychologist. But your teachers just thought you were creative.”
What Violet remembered was that her dad was the one who helped her when the local animals—dogs mostly—discovered the shallow graves of her cemetery and began to dig up the little bodies. He was the one who taught her to dig deeper and to cover the graves with heavy stones to prevent the scavengers from getting through to the animals buried below.
And when the dogs remained persistent, he even helped her build a small fence from chicken wire.
“When you found that girl, the one in the woods, I thought it would be your undoing. Your mom and I worried that it was too much for such a little girl to deal with. But you did it. You cried at first, and you even had some nightmares, but you didn’t fall apart. And as soon as that poor girl was buried, safe and sound in her own proper resting place, you seemed to just”—he shrugged—“move on.”
He lifted her chin with his finger. “You’ll do it again. I know you, Violet. You will be okay. Better than okay. Trust me.” He smiled at her then.
Violet tried to smile back, but she still felt miserable. She couldn’t explain it entirely, but it was similar to the way she would feel before she’d buried one of her animals—she felt restless and unsettled. Only this was worse…much, much worse. She felt like she was buried beneath a stiflingly heavy cloak of darkness that was suffocating her, and she desperately needed to claw her way out from underneath it. She didn’t share her dad’s optimism. To her it felt like she might never break free. But somehow, even if she didn’t entirely buy into it, it made her feel better just to hear him saying the words. She would be okay.
“We should get home,” she reminded him, suddenly wanting to shift the focus away from her. “Mom’s probably getting pissed that we’re taking so long.”
“Yep, I’m sure I’m going to get an earful about it.” He patted her leg and then started the car.
Violet couldn’t shake the melancholy feelings that clung to her, infiltrating every pore of her body. She leaned back and closed her eyes, wondering if the nightmares from her childhood were about to return, to haunt her sleep once more.
THE CHAOS OF THE SCENE WAS DELICIOUS. IT created the perfect amount of disorder so that he was completely hidden amid the confusion. Undetectable.
Just the way he liked it.
He loved the hunt; it was what kept him going. But this… this was his guilty pleasure.
Watching his work—the aftermath of a kill—exposed to the world.
Of course he’d known it would be. Eventually anyway.
After all, it was a water dump…in a busy lake. Somebody was bound to come across it sooner or later. The only surprise was how quickly she was found.