Isolation


I wanted to know what happened to Billy after the events in Lockdown, and being in his head was so much fun.
Unlike Lockdown, this story is contemporary fiction.
The next story about Billy, Powder, will return to horror, and will be published with Smashwords.


This is a work of fiction.


Mom and Mona are both asleep.
“What should we do now?” I ask Dad.
He looks exhausted, and I hope he’ll decide to go home to bed. There’s nothing we can do except take care of each other, and that includes taking care of ourselves.
“We need a new fridge,” he says.
“My house has one. Would you like to . . . well, I don’t have beds yet, but you could come over to eat. I bought you some cinnamon buns this morning.”
“Thanks. Do you think I should stay here?”
We’re standing in the hallway outside Mom and Mona’s hospital room.
I shake my head.
“I’ll call an appliance store and order a fridge. Then we should get some dinner at my house and some sleep at yours.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Billy, did I say I was sorry for how I treated you?”
“Yes, you did. I accepted your apology. Let’s go home. Would you like to drive?”
He shakes his head.
“I might fall asleep at the wheel. Thanks for not letting me drive us here.”
I nod, and we leave the hospital.
We’re quiet on the drive home, but as we arrive at our street, Dad says, “Would you mind dropping me off at home? I’m too tired to eat.”
“Sure. I’ll come back and bring you some cinnamon buns and you can eat them as soon as you wake up.”
Victoria’s car is still there. Dad doesn’t seem to notice it, and I decide not to say anything.
Dad’s unsteady on his feet, and I help him into the house.
“Want my bed tonight?” I ask him.
“What?”
I decide not to explain that their room needs to be cleaned.
“It’s closer.”
He smiles. I walk him there and he collapses onto my bed.
“Billy, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Dad. Don’t sweat it. Do you need anything?”
He mumbles something and closes his eyes.
“I’ll bring cinnamon buns and a glass of water.” I doubt he’s heard me, but that’s okay.
I get the water and write him a note.

Dear Dad,
I love you. I’m going to my house to bring you some food, and then I’ll go back and sleep there. I’ll help you clean the house tomorrow. Or if you want, I’ll drive you to visit Mom and Mona and then come back and clean the house. Call me when you wake up or any time. Love you.
Billy

On the way out, I see the old fridge. There’s nothing wrong with it, but maybe we should get a new one anyway. I shrug. I’ll leave that up to Mom and Dad.
I go to my house, grab the cinnamon buns and a few other things that don’t need to be kept cold, and return to our house.
I set up breakfast for Dad in the kitchen, and then I go into my parents’ room. If Dad wakes up in the middle of the night, he might forget where Mom is and go into their room to look for her. I don’t want him to see any of the weird stuff.
Victoria’s suit is there, minus the face mask, which is outside where I threw it.
I also see her knife, a gun, and a set of keys.
The knife is a good-quality kitchen knife, but I don’t want it. I’ll have to get rid of the gun without touching it with my bare hands. I’m sure it’s loaded, and if what I’ve seen in movies is right, it’s got a silencer.
I go into the kitchen and find some rubber gloves.
I go outside and pick up Victoria’s mask.
Back in the bedroom, I pick up the keys.
I go outside and try them in the black car. The second one unlocks it.
It’s a fancy car with leather seats and a new smell. In the trunk, I find a suitcase.
Probably more protective suits.
Might as well check.
One of the keys unlocks it, and I stare at stacks of good old American dollars.
I close it and take it to the house.
There’s a pile of ashes where Victoria died. I sweep up her remains and put them and her suit into a trash bag.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” I whisper as I tie the bag shut.
Where will I bury her?
Carefully, I pick up the gun and put it into another trash bag.
I empty out the suitcase and put in the two trash bags and the knife.
I check the car but find nothing else except some papers, which I don’t touch.
I take the suitcase and go for a walk.
About a mile from our house, there’s a small river.
I step onto the little bridge and walk to the center of the stream. I look around, see nobody, and toss the suitcase in.
I take my gloves off and toss them in after it.
I stand there and look up at the sky, which is darkening with approaching night.
“Our Father, Who art in Heaven. Hallow’d be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
I pause to get a breath.
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The wind gusts around me and I shiver.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
*
I spend the weekend helping Dad clean the house thoroughly, moving my things to my house, visiting Mom and Mona, and shopping for groceries and other important things.
Once Mom and Mona are home, I go to my house. Mom and Dad ask me to stay, but I think they need time together, and I have a lot of painting and studying to do. Mom ended up lending me her computer, so I have access to my online classes again.
Before I know it, it’s Saturday night, and I go to bed.
*
A sound wakes me.
What was that?
It’s not the phone.
I look at the clock.
It’s 4:01 a.m.
I get up and stand in my dark bedroom, listening.
Nothing.
Maybe it was a sound in a dream.
What was I dreaming about?
I don’t remember.
Ding dong!
The doorbell.
Who’s at the door this early in the morning?
It must be Mom or Dad. They must need my help.
I run down the stairs and to the door.
I look out but can’t see anything in the darkness.
I turn on the porch light.
The person standing there is about the same size as Mom, but a lot thinner, and wearing clothes that Mom wouldn’t be caught dead in: a pink dress with a low neckline, pink fake leather shoes, and a frilly pink scarf. Her outfit is both childish and too adult. Her face is pale and smeared with makeup. Her eyes are blue, confused, and frightened.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
Her voice is little more than a dry croak.
“I’m Billy. You’re standing on my porch.”
She coughs and looks bewildered.
“Would you like to use my phone and call somebody to take you home?”
“It’s so hot.”
It definitely isn’t hot.
What’s going on?
I don’t smell any alcohol, so I’m pretty sure she’s not drunk.
“Can I call somebody for you?”
She steps into my house, and when she pushes past me, I feel how hot her skin is in the cool night air.
“Would you like me to call somebody to come take you home?”
“Is Eva here?”
“No, this is Billy’s house. Would you like a glass of water?”
“Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
Her voice is so dry and cracked, she’s hard to understand.
I walk slowly toward the kitchen, and she follows me.
“What’s your name?” I ask, as I fill a glass.
“Mercy,” she says.
“That’s a nice name.”
She sits down on the floor.
“I’m going to bed. Eva, can you wake me up when it’s time?”
She closes her eyes.
“It’s Billy. I don’t know who Eva is.”
Should I call her an ambulance?
“Would you like to drink this glass of water?”
She opens her eyes, and there’s awareness in them.
I hold the glass out to her, and she takes it with a hot, dry hand.
“Would you like me to call an ambulance?”
Mercy shakes her head.
“Would you like to sleep in my guest room?”
“Please,” she whispers.
Thank goodness there’s one on the main floor.
I’ve been setting it up for when Mom, Dad, and Mona come to visit. So far, there’s just a bed and a nightstand.
I pull back the covers, and Mercy climbs into bed with her clothes on.
She closes her eyes, and I say, “The bathroom’s down the hall and I’ll leave a glass of water on the nightstand and another one on the vanity in the bathroom. If you need anything else, call out to me. I’ll be in the living room.”
She doesn’t answer, and I hope she’s heard what I’ve said.
“Good night, Mercy.”
I leave the glasses of water as promised, and then go into the living room and sit at my desk.
I spend the next hour on the Internet, browsing and then ordering art supplies.
I check my e-mail and write a bunch of replies.
Soon, it’s morning, and I haven’t heard a sound from the guest room.
Maybe I should go check on Mercy.
I tiptoe into the room. With only the bed and nightstand, it seems quite empty.
She’s asleep, and the glass of water is still full.
I go back to the living room and work on a painting until I hear Mercy getting up.
I meet her in the hall outside the guest room.
“Hi,” I say. “Do you need more water?”
She looks exhausted, but gives me a small smile.
“No thanks. You’re Billy, right?”
I nod.
“Did I do anything dumb last night?”
“No. You rang the doorbell, I gave you a glass of water, and then you went to bed.”
Thanks,” she says. The word is spoken with an emphasis I can’t put my finger on.
“You’re welcome.”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“Don’t sweat it.”
She smiles faintly, and then looks serious.
“I have it.”
“Coronavirus?”
She nods.
“Do you want to call anyone?”
She shakes her head.
“Okay. Do you want to talk? Or go back to bed?”
“Do you mind if I have a bath and then go to bed?”
“I don’t mind at all. If you want, I can lend you some clothes I bought for when Mom visits. I think she’s about your size.”
“If she wouldn’t mind, please.”
“She doesn’t know about them yet. I just bought a couple things so she wouldn’t have to do laundry or run home if Mona made a mess.”
“Who’s Mona?”
“My baby sister. Who’s Eva?”
She looks like she might cry, and I feel crappy.
“Sorry, um . . . can I help you with anything for your bath?”
She shakes her head.
“Okay, I’ll go get the clothes. Do you prefer a nightie or pyjamas?”
She smiles at me.
“Oh, definitely pyjamas.”
Once I hear the tub filling, I go into the kitchen and look for something to eat.
Good thing I’ve bought a lot of food. With us here together, I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up with a case of coronavirus too.
I make myself some bacon and eggs and wonder if I should cook for Mercy, but decide to wait until I can ask her what she’d like.
I’ve just finished eating when I hear the bathroom door open, and Mercy’s footsteps in the hall.
“Would you like breakfast?” I call.
“Ugh, no thank you.”
Mercy sleeps most of the day, and when she does wake up, it’s just to use the bathroom and get more water.
I spend the day painting, checking on Mercy, and trying not to think about coronavirus.
*
“Eva!”
My eyes fly open.
I look at the clock.
It’s 1:01 a.m.
“EEEE-VA!”
Mercy is screaming, but her voice is so dry and cracked, I’m afraid she’s going to damage her throat if I can’t calm her down.
“Eva! Where are you?”
I wish I knew who Eva was so I could find her. I guess it wouldn’t be good for her to get coronavirus, but Eva could probably help Mercy recover better than I can.
I go quickly down the stairs and along the hall to the guest room.
“EVA!”
“It’s Billy,” I say as I step into the room and flick on the light.
She’s on the bed, but all the blankets are on the floor. The glass of water I’ve left for her is still full.
“Mercy, it’s Billy. Can you hear me?”
“Eva! Where are you?”
“Mercy, it’s Billy. You’re having a bad dream. Can you hear me?”
“EVA!”
I go over to her and put my hand on her arm. Her skin is burning hot.
“It’s Billy. Can you hear me? I’ve got some water for you.”
She looks at me.
“What?”
Her voice is now barely a whisper.
“It’s Billy. You were having a bad dream. I’ve brought you some water.”
She needs my help getting to the bathroom and even holding the glass of water, so I decide not to ask her about Eva until she’s stronger.
Once she’s asleep, I go back to bed.
I lie in the dark for a while, thinking about Mercy and wondering why she doesn’t want to call anybody.
Does she have any family?
Does she have any friends?

She hasn’t really talked to me much, but from what I’ve seen, she’s a nice person, and I’d think she would have friends, probably lots.
I eventually fall asleep again, and wake up at eight.
I check on Mercy, who’s still asleep, and then I make myself some breakfast.
As I eat, I wonder how long it will be before I start to feel sick.
I want to know, and yet I really don’t, so I finish eating, wash the dishes, and go and do some painting.
*
Over the next few days, Mercy gets worse, and then she starts to get better.
I spend the time bringing her water and then soup, cleaning, and working on paintings.
I don’t ask her about Eva. I also don’t ask her if she wants to call anybody. I’ve seen a phone charging on the nightstand, so if she wants to call somebody, she can.
*
It’s the second Tuesday since she’s been here, and I’m starting to think that maybe I’m not going to get sick after all.
I’m just getting out of the shower, when I hear her scream.
There’s no time for me to dress, so I wrap my towel around myself, and bolt into the kitchen.
Mercy is standing there, pale and shaking.
“What happened? Are there spiders in here or something?”
I blush as I realize how unfriendly my remark sounded.
“Sorry. What’s wrong?”
“Dogs.”
“Dogs?”
She points to one of the cupboards.
“I wanted to surprise you. You know, to clean up a bit to . . . thank you for helping me . . . so I looked in the cupboards for cleaning supplies. But I found dog food in there.”
“I don’t have a dog. A man down the street offered me a puppy, and I bought food, not realizing I would have to wait, but it’s still too soon for me to get one. Come and sit down and I’ll get you a glass of water.”
She gives me a faint smile, and I go to the cupboard to get a glass.
As I reach for it, the towel slips off of me, and now I’m completely naked.
“Sorry! I’ll go get dressed.”
“It’s okay. You have a nice body.”
I almost choke on a surprised laugh.
I’ve never been naked in front of a girl before.
I’m too shy to give you the details, but let’s just say that Mercy and me have a great morning.
*
“Do you think you’re going to be okay?” Mercy asks.
We’re sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch.
She’s still smiling from our fun, but she also looks worried.
“I feel fine, so maybe I won’t get it.”
“I really hope you don’t.” She takes a bite of her sandwich. “You’re a good cook.”
I laugh.
“Thanks. Are you?”
“I’m not the best, but I get by. I’ve heard you typing and turning pages and some other stuff. Are you taking classes?”
“Yeah, but some of what you hear is me painting. I’m just finishing up this first year of college, and then I’m going to quit and paint full time.”
“That’s cool. I wish I had . . . I wish I could . . . oh never mind.”
“Do you want to talk?”
“Not really. Can I see your paintings?”
“Not all of them, because they’re for clients, but I can paint something for you if you’d like.”
“You’d do that?”
“Of course. What would you like me to paint?”
“I love the river. Can you paint that?”
“A river landscape? Sure. With trees and sunshine and people walking.”
She frowns slightly.
“Can you paint it when it’s stormy, like in the fall? The trees have no leaves left and it’s cold and windy. Everybody’s at home, except for one person.”
“Who’s the person?”
She doesn’t answer for a few seconds, but I think I already know the answer.
“Me. A little girl version of me. I’m eleven, so not that little. I’m walking in the rain, because . . . I don’t want to tell you. I’m sorry.”
“Too personal?”
She nods.
“I can paint her for you. I’ll clean up and then go get my stuff.”
“Thanks. I’ll clean up while you go and get your paints.”
“Sure. Just one question.”
“What?” She looks and sounds nervous.
“Would you like to paint her?”
“Me?”
“I can help you if you want, or I can paint her, or you can. I just thought I’d ask, because it sounds like it’s important to you. To like, maybe help you with something, I dunno.”
She smiles at me.
“Yeah, you’re right, but I can’t draw worth [blank].” She gets up from the table and takes her plate to the sink.
“Sure,” I say, and go and get paper, watercolors, brushes, and water.
When I walk back into the kitchen with an armload of supplies, she’s at the sink, washing our dishes. I put everything down on the table and open the box of paints.
“Will it take long for you to set up?”
“Nope. I’m pretty much ready now. Do you have a specific river in mind? I can Google it and try to get the shape right.”
“Do you know the one near here?”
“Sure.”
“Please use that one.”
“Okay. What time of day is it?”
She rinses a plate.
“It’s about five in the afternoon. It’s very dark, and it’s raining. The wind’s blowing my shirt around and I’m crying.”
I want to ask her why the little girl is crying, but I don’t. I sense that my role right now, in whatever she’s trying to come to terms with, is to be the hands that paint her sadness and possibly her grief, rather than ears to listen.
“I understand. What are you wearing?”
“A black T-shirt. Short sleeves. Nobody even noticed I was dressed like that. I was wearing jeans. They were faded, but made like that, you know? On purpose.”
“I do know. My dad loves faded jeans. What kind of shoes?”
“Black leather ones. Old.”
“Were any of your clothes dirty?”
“No. My hair was short. I was going through a boyish stage.”
She finishes with the dishes and comes to sit across from me.
“Nobody even noticed I wasn’t wearing a jacket.”
She looks at me and her face is almost expressionless.
“Had you been crying for a long time?”
“No. I’d been holding it in until I got away from people.”
“I understand.”
Do I really?
When I was eleven, Mom and Dad would have noticed immediately if I wasn’t dressed properly, and I usually told them if I had a problem.
I pick up a brush and start painting the river.
Mercy watches it take shape.
“Wow,” she whispers. “It looks so real already. I thought artists had to do sketches or something first.”
“I sometimes do, but I want this to just be. I don’t want to plan it.”
I brush quickly, and soon, the river is flowing angrily along.
I start to add leafless trees, with their branches appearing to whip around in a strong wind.
Mercy doesn’t speak as I add dark clouds, rain drops, and then the girl.
I decide to put her on the bridge, which I’ve already painted.
As I start to paint her, Mercy says, “How did you know she was on the bridge?”
“I didn’t.”
“She thought about jumping, but didn’t think she could do it.”
“I’m glad she didn’t,” I whisper.
“If you knew what happened, you probably wouldn’t.”
I put down the brush and look at her.
“I don’t know what happened to her, and I understand you don’t want to tell me. But I do know that there are usually ways to deal with problems, and most people are pretty forgiving of things kids do.”
“Not this,” she says. “This is different.”
“Would you like me to keep painting?”
“Yes please, if you don’t mind.”
“I love painting, but I wish I could put a smile on her face. Is there some way I can do that?”
“No. She has to be crying.”
So I continue to paint the sad, stormy picture.
When I lay down my brush after the last gentle stroke, she says, “Thank you, Billy. Are you hungry?”
“You’re welcome, and I am.”
So she makes dinner for us, and in spite of what she said earlier, she proves she’s a good cook.
*
We spend the next day talking and making love, but she doesn’t mention the painting, and I don’t bring it up.
When I go to bed, I feel fine.
I wake up not feeling fine.
It seems like coronavirus has gotten to me after all.
My throat is sore and I’m thirsty.
So this is it, I think as I tiptoe into the bathroom and fill a glass. This is the virus.
I never thought to ask Mercy how hers started. Were her symptoms this mild and innocent, like a little bit of a cold? Did she have any inkling that she would be wandering the streets, feverish and confused, looking for shelter? How long had she walked before she stepped up onto my porch and rang the bell?
I should ask her.
Do I want to know the answer?
Does she even remember?
I take a sip of cool water and then another.
I drain the glass.
I take another one with me back to bed.
I wake up again needing water and the bathroom, but I fall back to sleep quickly.
When I wake up again, it’s eight. I hear Mercy in the kitchen, making herself breakfast.
I dress, have a drink of water, and go down into the kitchen.
“Hi,” she says. She’s at the stove, frying bacon.
“Hi,” I say. “I’ve got the virus. So far, just a sore throat and I guess I’m sort of tired.”
The bacon also smells weird, but I decide not to complain. At least one person should enjoy it.
I decide to have some toast.
After one bite, I put it down.
“Does it taste bad?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll try some orange juice.”
It tastes marginally better, and I force it down.
Mercy sits across from me, eating a large plate of bacon and eggs.
“Are you going back to bed?” she asks.
“No. I feel well enough to paint. What are you doing today?”
“I think I might read or watch TV. It’s nice to be able to sit and . . . do whatever I want.”
“Will you tell me about before you came here?”
She shakes her head.
“Maybe some day, but not now. You draw pictures for books, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Can I read any of the books?”
“None of them have been published yet, but when they are, sure you can.”
She takes a bite and chews.
After she swallows, she says, “I wish I had a talent.”
“I think everybody does.”
“Not me. I’m no good.”
I want to tell her she’s good in bed, but something stops me. She is, but I sense it’s not the kind of talent she’s talking about, and to say it might even offend her, which is the last thing I want to do.
“What kind of talent would you most want to have?”
“What do you mean?”
“Drawing? Writing? Singing? What talent would you most want?”
“Oh, I used to sing.”
“Why did you stop?”
She looks uncomfortable and sad.
I reach across the table and take her hand.
“It might be part of what you don’t want to tell me. I get that. Would you ever want to sing again?”
“Maybe.”
“What was your favorite song?”
“The usual children’s songs, and Christian stuff.”
“Like Amazing Grace?”
She nods.
I’m not the best singer, but I try.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
She smiles.
“That saved a wretch like me,” we sing together.
She looks surprised.
Her voice is beautiful, high, and goes well with my low one.
“I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”
I smile.
“We sound good.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Do you know the rest?”
I don’t, so she sings it solo.
After the last note dies away, she says, “Thank you, Billy. Thank you for helping me find my voice again. It’s been . . . nine years. The last time I heard that song was at . . . at the funeral.”
*
As I paint, I keep thinking about Mercy.
What did she mean about being able to sit and do whatever she wanted?
Whose funeral did she attend nine years ago?
Where had she been before she came to my house that night?
I want to ask her, but I also don’t want to pry.
I love her, but can it last? If I don’t really know her, how can I be her boyfriend?
I look down at the picture I’m working on. It’s starting to show a boy sitting on a bike that no longer has training wheels. The bike is already there, but I’m having trouble with the boy. His expression needs to be right. He’s scared, but he’s having fun, and I need to stop thinking about Mercy so I can become a little boy again, and remember what it was like to ride a bike like the big kids had.
She won’t leave my thoughts.
The half-drawn boy looks up at me, pleading with his still rudimentary eyes for me not to leave him like this, unfinished and unloved, but I know that if I try to draw him now, I’ll only draw Mercy’s tormented face.
What happened that made her want to jump off the bridge?
Why does she feel unworthy of forgiveness?
I put my paints away.
“Billy?”
Mercy’s standing just outside the door. She’s very pale, and I wonder if she’s getting sick.
“Are you okay?”
“Not really. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’ve changed the channel at least a hundred times, but I can’t get into anything.”
“Let’s go sit in the living room.”
She nods and follows me there.
Once we’re sitting down, I take a deep breath and say, “When you first came here, you were feverish.” I take another breath. “You asked if Eva was here.”
“I remember,” she whispers.
“Can you tell me who Eva is?”
“My sister.”
“Younger or older?”
“Younger. She was only a month old.”
I wait, but she doesn’t say more.
After a few minutes of silence, she says, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.”
“I wish I could tell you, but I just can’t. You’re such a nice guy, and I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”
*
I recover, and once neither of us is sick, I can go out for groceries. Good thing, as we’re almost out of almost everything.
Mercy doesn’t like grocery shopping, but asks me to drive her to a Walmart so she can grab a few personal things.
Once we’re home, Mercy starts making dinner, and I decide to paint for an hour.
I lose track of time and am mildly startled by a knock at my door.
“Billy?” Mercy says. Her voice sounds odd, but I can’t put my finger on her tone.
“Sorry, I’ll just be a minute or two.”
When I open the door, she’s standing right there, and her face is ashen.
“Mercy, are you okay? I’m sorry I made you stand there so long.”
Here I am, fussing with my stupid paints, and Mercy’s all alone with nobody to talk to.
Even if she doesn’t want to tell me about what happened to her, I could at least be there for her instead of locking myself in here and painting all day.
“It’s okay,” she says. “Dinner’s almost ready.” She smiles at me, and I’m afraid, although I can’t put my finger on why, which just makes it worse.
I follow her into the kitchen, and she serves dinner.
I offer to do the dishes, and she says, “I need to tell you something first.”
This is it. She’s going to tell me about whatever happened nine years ago.
She opens her mouth to speak, and the back door opens.
“What the heck?” I say.
I’m sure I closed the door all the way after I brought the groceries in.
I get up and turn around.
There, standing in the kitchen, is Victoria in her black rubber suit with the smileys instead of eyes.
She glides across the room and grabs me. Her grip is incredibly strong, and although I’m no weakling, I’m slow to react, and by the time I start to think that I should put up a fight, she’s got my wrists in handcuffs.
Mercy screams, and Victoria grabs her.
How can she still exist?
I watched her disintegrate in bright sunshine in my parents’ room.
My mouth is too dry to ask her, so I just sit there and watch her handcuff poor Mercy.
*
I’m lying on the bed that Mercy used until we sort of started sharing my bed. She still keeps her stuff in here, and her phone’s on the nightstand. The screen is lit and displaying Mercy’s apps, but I can’t reach it. I’m lying on my side, facing out into the room, able to see both the phone and the door. My hands and ankles are in cuffs, and I’m tied to the bed with sturdy nylon ropes.
*
I sat in the chair, my hands useless, my mind racing.
How had Victoria come back for me?
For a minute, it was the only question that mattered, and then I looked at Mercy.
Like me, she was tied up and handcuffed, but unlike me, she didn’t seem to be shocked or confused by what was happening. Her eyes were full of a pleading kind of resignation.
“Please,” she said.
Victoria didn’t answer, but reached up with a gloved hand and pulled her mask off.
The face wasn’t hers, but that of a man.
“Nice to see you’re well,” he said to Mercy. He turned to me and said, “Tell me, why’d you throw this perfectly good suit into the river?”
When I didn’t speak right away, he pulled a pistol and pointed it at Mercy’s left foot.
“Victoria,” I said in a dry whisper.
“Who’s that?”
“A vampire.”
I told him and Mercy about the events I describe in Lockdown.
“So I packed everything up and tossed it into the river.”
“A vampire?” he said, raising his eyebrows. “You really mean that?”
I nodded.
“I don’t really believe in vampires, but that’s okay. Thanks for the suit and the gun.”
“How’d you know about it?” I asked.
“I saw you toss a bag of stuff into the river. I called somebody to retrieve it.”
He smiled at Mercy.
“Now it’s your turn. Tell him what you did.”
Mercy looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, Billy.”
“Cut the BS and tell him all of it.”
*
I was eleven years old. My parents had just died in a car accident, and Eva and I went to foster parents. Their names were Lizzie and Henry. She stayed home looking after kids and he worked five days a week and played with us on weekends.
I likd living with them. I was sad about my parents, but every time I mentioned them, Lizzie would comfort me and tell me they would always love me.
I was just starting to feel like doing things again, when the social worker came.
I still remember her name.
It was Fran.
The weather had been rainy and windy for a while, and it was really dark outside, even though it was only four in the afternoon.
Their conversation was supposed to be private, but the door wasn’t closed all the way.
They were in the living room, and I was at the dining room table.
Eva was having a nap upstairs, and so was Chris, a two-year-old they were fostering.
I left the table and stepped closer to the door so I could hear them. In many ways, I wish I hadn’t done it. If I hadn’t, Eva and I wouldn’t know each other, but at least we’d be safe.
“How’s it going with the kids?” Fran asked.
“Pretty good, except I’m worried about having Chris and Eva around with the new baby.”
I almost gave myself away by calling out and asking what new baby she was talking about, but I kept quiet.
“How long now?” Fran asked.
“Oh, I still have a few months, and I’m hoping Chris will stop saying ‘no!’ to everything by then!”
Fran laughed.
“He probably won’t, but I can help you with things a little bit.”
“Oh, did his mother quit drinking?”
“Fat chance. But Eva’s young enough to go for adoption.”
“What about Mercy?”
“At her age, she’s too old, but Eva’s a healthy, cute, white baby girl. Lots of childless couples want those.”
“What about keeping them together?”
“If Mercy was five or even eight, maybe.”
“You know Henry and I would keep them both, right?”
“That’s nice of you, but you’re needed to forster kids like Mercy and John.”
“John?”
“Yes, didn’t I tell you? We have a twelve-year-old boy who needs a place to stay. With Eva out of your hair, you’ll have more time to spend with the others and of course, with your new baby. Do you know the sex yet?”
Back then, I thought the word ‘sex’ was so gross, but I somehow managed not to say anything.
“No. The ultrasound isn’t until next Monday.”
“Good.”
Fran told Lizzie all about John, who would be coming tomorrow. Henry wasn’t even there, and she just sprang him on her like that.
Did she spring Eva and me on her, too?
Honestly, I don’t remember much about what she said about John. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Eva and me.
“I’d be happy to have John,” Lizzie said.
“Great. Back to Eva. I already have a couple in mind for her.”
“Really?”
She sounded worried, but Fran seemed to interpret her tone as excited.
“Yep. She might be gone within the month.”
“Is there any chance they might adopt Mercy?”
“As I’ve already explained, she’s too old to be adoptable. Shelley and Dylan are in their early thirties. She makes computer software so she can work from home once Eva’s at school. Dylan’s a chef. And you know what else?”
“What?”
“Dylan’s parents live just three doors down, so they can babysit.”
“That sounds good, but I still feel terrible about Mercy and Eva being separated.”
“It’s a shame she’s too old, but these things happen all the time in fostering. It’s hard to place older kids and large sibling groups without separating them. The older kids miss the younger ones, of course, but you’ve just got to deal with it. So, I’ll set up a meeting for next week so you can meet Shelley and Dylan. Is Wednesday at five-thirty good for you and Henry?”
“It works for us, but we’d need to bring the kids or find a sitter.”
“No kids, so you’ll have to find a sitter. Make sure you bring lots of pictures of Eva, but don’t include any of Mercy or the others.”
“No pictures of Mercy with her sister?”
“Right, no pictures of Mercy. Only Eva, you, and Henry should be in the shots, and try to make sure that all pictures have Eva as the focus. You want them to see how cute she is.”
“Lizzie!”
It was Chris.
“I’ll be right there!” Lizzie called.
“I’ll be back tomorrow at four to bring John,” Fran called after her.
I stood there and listened to Fran leaving and Lizzie going to Chris.
Even with all the noise, Eva didn’t wake up.
*
“I went out,” Mercy said. “I went into the rain and walked over to the bridge. I stood there, thinking about Eva. I thought about never seeing her again. I thought about her going to Shelley and Dylan’s house and I’d never see my baby sister again. I cried and I walked and the rain soaked me but I didn’t care. All I wanted was Eva and me to stay together.”
*
I walked off the bridge and saw a man sitting on a bench.
I had started crying again, and he smiled gently at me and said, “Are you okay?”
“No,” I said.
He patted the bench beside him.
“What’s wrong?”
His voice was nice and I went and sat down beside him. Sure, he was a stranger, but he wasn’t asking me to get into his car. Lizzie and Henry would be busy with Chris and making dinner, but this nice man had time to talk to me.
“Eva,” I said, and told him about what had happened. As I talked, I cried, and he patted me on the back a couple of times, just like Dad used to.
*
“He told me he could help me,” Mercy said. She looked at me sadly. “Billy, I’m a kidnapper.”
“That’s right,” the man said. “Mercy and Eva have spent the last few years at my place.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Call me Mike. I’m planning to let you live, so it’s better you don’t know my real name.”
He left us tied to the chairs and started going through my house. He didn’t say anything until he came to the bathroom.
“What’s this?” he called.
“What?” I asked.
“In the trash. Oh, Mercy, Mercy. What is this little stick?”
Mercy didn’t speak.
“Were you going to tell Billy about this?”
“I was trying to.”
“You know the rules, right?”
“Yes.”
“Recite them.”
She looked at me apologeticaly and said, “If you don’t use protection, you get an infection, and then you face rejection.”
“Wrong,” Mike said. “Who faces rejection?”
“Eva,” she whispered.
“What?”
“Eva,” she said.
“That’s right.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “And besides that, how’d you know Mercy and me were here?”
He laughed.
“I’ll answer your second question first. The little device I’ve always had in the lining of her purse. I didn’t bother listening to most of your conversations, but I heard her knocking on your door and used the GPS signal to locate your house.”
He laughed again.
“Now for your first question. Mercy left a pregnancy test in your trash. A positive one.”
*
Mike brought me to Mercy’s room and tied me to her bed.
“Mercy and me are leaving,” he said. “You can lie here until you die or somebody finds you. I was planning to knock you out and then leave with her, but you robbed me. Mercy’s no good to me now.”
*
I listen as Mike continues to go through my house. He finds the painting of Mercy standing on the bridge and tells me I’m a good painter.
Once he’s finished looking around, I hear him take Mercy into the living room.
“Before we go, I want Billy to hear about Eva.”
Mercy’s phone is right there, but I can’t reach it.
I stare at the screen and will it to call the cops, but it doesn’t.
“Eva had coronavirus while you were enjoying yourself here.”
“No!” Mercy says.
“Yes,” Mike says. “So did Maria. For Billy’s information, that’s the illegal Mexican immigrant who sometimes looks after little Eva when her sister is busy.”
“Are they okay?”
“What do you think, Mercy?”
“Please.”
“Maria wasn’t answering my texts. I figured she’d forgotten to charge the fancy phone I bought her, so I didn’t worry too much. I was dealing with a problem somewhere else, so I didn’t worry much until I came home and found the house dark and quiet.”
He pauses.
“I activated the intercomm app and called out ‘hey, is anybody home?’ My message should have resounded throughout the house, and Maria should have opened up, except she didn’t.”
Hey, is anybody home?
Hey. Hey, Siri. Is anybody home?
Mercy showed me her phone a few days ago. I learned how to use Siri, and Mercy let me play around opening apps and stuff.
“Hey Siri,” I whisper, hoping Mike won’t hear me but worried my voice won’t be loud or clear enough.
Siri comes up.
I say “call” and recite Dad’s number, since I have no idea if it works with emergency calls.
On the nightstand, the phone starts to rigng.
“I turned on the video feed, and saw Maria lying on the floor, dead. I also saw Eva.”
“Hello,” Dad says. “Who’s calling?”
“Dad,” I whisper. “It’s me. Please help me.”
“Billy, what? Can you speak up a little?”
“No. Dad, please listen and do what I ask. Call 911 on the landline and put the phones close together so they can hear me.”
“Was she okay?” Mercy asks.
“What’s going on?” Dad asks.
“Call 911 on the landline and put the phone close so they can hear me.”
I listen to Dad’s footsteps, and then I hear him pick up the phone.
Mike speaks just as the 911 operator answers.
“What do you think?”
“What is the emergency?”
“I’m not sure,” Dad says. “My son’s on the phone. I hope you can hear him.”
I say my address as quietly and clearly as I can.
“Help me,” I whisper. “I’m tied up in bed and Mercy’s in danger.”
“Tell me!” Mercy shouts.
“You didn’t talk to me like that when I helped you kidnap your sister.”
“There’s a guy here and he’s got Mercy in the living room.”
“Is he armed?” the operator asks.
“Yes. He has a pistol. Mercy’s pregnant. Please don’t hurt her.”
“The police are on their way. Is anybody hurt?”
“No.”
“does anybody have coronavirus?”
“Both of us did and have recovered. I don’t know about Mike.”
“Please,” Mercy says. “Please tell me Eva’s okay.”
“I can’t do that,” Mike says. “She might not be. I didn’t go in because there was coronavirus in the house, and I didn’t want to get sick.”
“Please send the cops. I think the back door might be unlocked.”
“The police will be there very soo—”
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
Mona’s cry explodes from Mercy’s phone.
“I think I’d better go check on Billy.”
Mike runs into the room.
He sees the phone and smiles at me.
He reaches out, taps End Call, and my sister’s cries die.
He reaches into his pocked and pulls out the pistol. He raises it slowly.
“I’m sorry, Mercy,” I say. “I used Siri to call for help, but it’ll be too late by the time the police get here. I love you.”
“FREEZE!” a voice hollers. “POLICE!”
Mike and I both turn to stone, and somebody grabs him from behind and shoves him to the floor.
I listen as a male officer arrests Mike and a female officer talks to Mercy in the living room.
“You have the right to remain silent.”
“I’m Beatrice. Are you hurt?”
“Eva!”
“Who is Eva?”
“Do you understand your rights?”
“My little sister.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s dead!” Mike yells. “I told you!”
“Do you understand your rights?”
“Yes.”
“If you give me the address,” Beatrice says, “I’ll make sure somebody checks.”
Mike says, “They’ll get coronavirus, just like Maria and Eva!”
Mercy recites an address. I know the street, but not the house.
Beatrice makes a call.
The male officer unties me, tells me his name is Jackson, and then I call Dad.
“Hello?” Dad sounds scared.
“the police are here. I’m just calling to let you know.”
“Your baby distracted him pretty good while we got in,” Jackson says.
“I’ll kill all of you,” Mike says.
“You won’t kill anybody,” Jackson says.
*
Mercy and me sit in the living room with the two officers who were sent to Mike’s house.
The male officer, whose name is Matthew, says, “Both Maria and Eva are alive. They both have suspected coronavirus and were locked in the house.”
Fara, the female officer, says, “They’ve both been taken to the hospital. You can’t see them, but you can call them.”
“It’s all my fault,” Mercy says.
She tells the two officers what happened when she was eleven.
“You know,” she says, after she describes how she took Eva from her crib and carried her baby sister outside while Lizzie was trying to get things ready for John and also keep track of Chris, “I still remember their last name.”
“Whose?” I ask.
“Shelley and Dylan’s. I also think I know where Lizzie and Henry lived.”
She looks down at the floor.
“I homeschooled Eva with materials Mike gave us. I wanted to go back to school, but he wouldn’t let me. Maria taught us both Spanish. I wish we could go back to when I was eleven and she was a baby and get adopted by the same family.”
She smiles sadly at me.
“Then I’d grow up and we’d have gone to high school together and your parents would like me. Is it all right if I go to the bathroom before you arrest me?”
“We’re not going to arrest you,” Matthew says.
“But I kidnapped a baby, and Mike says kidnapping is a federal crime.”
“Mike is the one we’ll be accusing of kidnapping,” Fara says.
“What’s going to happen to Eva, Maria, and me?”
I pat the couch and say, “You’re all welcome here.”

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