Summary: George’s few memories from his childhood come into play when his mother is put on trial for murder. George has no idea if anything really happened in his house, but as the trial continues and more facts come to light, he comes to realize that what he thought was his life was just a sinister dream of his parents.
For obvious reasons, this piece is rated T.
George was in the bath while his babysitter supervised. Brittney was a girl from next door who babysat him once a week while his parents had an evening out. Tonight was no different, and as he prepared to get out of the bath, he heard the door close downstairs. The babysitter did too, but she continued with her task. She wrapped the small boy in a towel and helped him get into his pajamas.
Soon George was in bed while a tape played nearby, a tape of lullabyes his mother had recently gotten for him. As he listened to the soft music, he could faintly make out an argument downstairs. The loud adult voices were drowned out by the soft music, and George’s young mind slipped into Dream Land for another blissful night.
“That’s what you remember from your childhood?”
George blinked and he was back in court again. He was seventeen now, but he could remember that scene from when he was five years old. His other childhood memories were from school, from family events, and from his time spent with friends, all of which were from ages seven and up. Anything less than seven was a blur, a blur he could never touch, except for this once memory.
This was on trial now. His mother had been arrested and charged with several murders, including the murder of his older sister. George didn’t even remember having a sister, and he certainly never thought his kind-hearted mother would be capable of what the courts said she was. To him, she was an angel. To Elwood City, she was a monster.
“Mr. Lundgren?” the lawyer asked. George snapped out of his daydream and nodded. The lawyer walked around, “You remember an argument that night. Was it common for your parents to argue?”
“No,” George replied, “they almost never fought.”
“But they fought that night,” the lawyer noted, “You said ‘almost’, so what would make them reach that point?”
“I just said ‘almost’ to be saying it. I only remember them arguing that one time, and I have no idea what it was about. I was only five years old. I don’t remember anything,” George said. The lawyer was getting him angry, again, but he knew this was coming. He knew it would happen eventually.
The lawyer continued, “And you don’t remember your sister?”
“No. I don’t have a sister,” George said flatly.
The lawyer nodded, “Is that because she disappeared when you were too young to remember? It is true, isn’t it, that–?”
“Objection! Leading the witness!”
George couldn’t help but grin. The defense lawyer for his mother had come to his rescue, and he hoped this line of questioning was finished. Because the prosecution’s lawyer couldn’t think of a better way to ask his question, he decided to pass it off to the defense. As George expected, they decided against questioning him.
After a few more hours, George was free again. He drove over to his job at a new sub shop on Elwood City’s main street. He was introduced to the place by Buster, who was working the register when George arrived. He put on an apron and washed up before taking his place at the counter. After a busy hour, the boys were finally treated to an empty shop just after the sun set.
“How was court?” Buster asked. He had bought himself a bag of chips, but it was already halfway gone as George shrugged, taking a bite from one of yesterday’s cookies. Buster swallowed a mouthful of chips, “Were you on the stand today? I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“It’s not as fun as you’d think. It was miserable actually. The guy just kept asking what I remembered like he wanted me to put in the tape of my memories and tell him everything from every angle. I don’t remember any of it, but the babysitter goes on the stand tomorrow. She flew in from Chicago to testify for the case. She apparently knew everything but was paid off. That’s how she went to college.”
Buster nodded in surprise, “Wow, that’s a lot of money to pay someone for your secrets. What do you think she knew that would make them pay that kind of money?”
“She babysat me for years apparently,” George whispered, taking a slow bite of his cookie. When he was finished chewing in slow, measured movements, he looked up, “She would’ve babysat my sister, if I had a sister. I don’t think anyone knows how crazy it is to have your entire life be a lie.”
“I don’t think it was a lie,” Buster said, standing up as a customer entered the restaurant, “I think it was a dream, your parents’ dream, and you just fell victim to it.”
George was laying in bed and staring up at the ceiling when his aunt entered the room. With both of his parents behind bars, his mother for multiple murders and his father for helping her cover up the evidence, George was staying with his aunt and uncle, who was his father’s brother. They were just as shocked as George, but they were happy to have him, and his aunt made it a point to talk with him every night before bed.
“John told me you were asked to the stand today. He said it went okay for you, but I wanted to hear it from you. How did it go?” she asked.
George shrugged, “Miserable, of course. I don’t really want to go back to court, but I do want to hear what Brittney has to say. I barely remember her, but maybe seeing her again could help me remember more.”
“I don’t think you need to remember anything else. I think you forgot for a reason, and I don’t feel like you should hurt yourself any further. I imagine that you’ve been through enough,” his aunt smiled kindly, standing up, “but if you feel like you need to remember anything, maybe you should seek out couselling. They can help you talk through the problems you already have, and they can help you find exercises that would help you remember–”
“And then they can help me get through what I remember,” George sighed. He wondered if he should remember anything, if he should even say anything. George looked up to his aunt, “Maybe I should just stop trying and move on altogether.”
“That would be the easier path, but it’s entirely up to you. Your uncle and I are here for you no matter what you choose to do. Remember, if you need anything, your Aunt Jasmine is here for you,” she smiled. She moved off to another room where her own children were preparing for bed.
George remained in their guest bedroom alone. He thought about what the papers had said, what the news had told him. Ten victims, one of whom being their only daughter. To cover up the crimes, Neil had lied to everyone and helped get counterfeit documents to hide the true cause of death of their daughter. As he tried to cover things up, his wife kept killing, using her position as a church volunteer and community activist to hide among them, thinking no one would ever be missed enough to really point in her direction. To the police, the murders were committed by a sinister stranger who descended on the town every two years, but in reality, it was her all along. The only thing that ruined her was a new surveillance system and a home owner brave enough to review the footage after his beloved neighbor was murdered in her own backyard. George’s mother had swooped in with a set of hedge clippers, sliced the woman’s throat and arms, and left without a sound. That footage busted her, and now George’s entire life had unraveled. If it weren’t for kind people, he’d have to switch schools and everything.
George was serious about just starting over and forgetting everything. In six weeks, he’d be out of high school and able to go wherever he pleased and do whatever he wanted. He could go to college or he could move across the country and get a job. He could do anything. He just needed to decide.
But staying and getting therapy could be beneficial. Maybe he could finally remember what they argued about that night, or what really happened to his sister. They had never discovered her body, and the police could only speculate what happened. Maybe if it happened in front of him, he could finally know it all, but he knew that would be painful. Sometimes it was better to forget, but he knew he could never forgive.
George looked up from the condiment containers to see one of the detectives who had worked his mother’s case from the moment Elwood City’s police department called him in. He worked for the state and only worked major crime sprees like this one. He and George had spoken a few times, usually as an interrogation, but George couldn’t tell if this was a peace mission or something else.
His mother’s verdict had come in the day before. After two weeks, the jury was finally given the case. They took forty-five minutes to say she was guilty on every count. The sentencing hearing would be in two months, according to the news, and then the jury would decide her fate. They were all predicting that she would get life in prison, but if the attorneys and the judge deemed it fit, they could possibly try to death penalty, but only if the jury’s vote on the matter was unanimous. This fact scared George, but he was trying to keep his head down and move on. He was almost done with high school. Why let his parents’ issues trip him up now?
“I’ll take a club with mayo, onions, lettuce, and tomato,” the detective said, pointing to the bread board, “footlong on white, not toasted.”
“You’ve been in here before,” George said solemnly, beginning to build the sandwich by cutting the bread in half.
The detective nodded, “You’re right. All of these sub shops are the same, but it’s nice to find a home-grown one. I usually just hit up the chains when I’m travelling around the state. I got a call from my bosses that I’m needed back at the capital for another case. It’s amazing what people do to each other, namely because I never thought I’d be this busy or meet this many people, especially young guys like you.”
“I think the feeling is mutual,” George whispered, putting mayo on the detective’s sandwich, “I never thought I’d meet so many of you at all, yet here you all are.”
The detective shifted, “I know it’s hard for all of you, especially a boy in your situation. I’ve been in court every day for this case because it was the strangest I’d ever worked, and that was because of you. I’m happy to find you here because it shows you’ve adjusted well enough, but if you need anything, I want you to call the number on this card any time. They’re a psychologist I’ve worked with on several cases, specifically children and adolescents put through cases like this. Some even saw murders or vicious assaults, and this guy helped them through it. You should call, but only if you need it.”
George nodded, “Thanks. I’m okay though. I just need to finish high school, then I can put everything behind me, including this,” George said, wrapping the detective’s sandwich and sliding it over to the cash register. He accepted the card, “Just in case, I’ll take it, but I namely don’t want to be rude.”
Buster rang up the detective as if he wasn’t listening at all, and the detective let him. After paying, he disappeared up the street, probably to the parking deck next to the courthouse. George wiped down the preparation counter and announced he was going on break.
George escaped to the back alley behind the building. It was mostly used for smoke breaks, but today he needed a moment in the fresh air without being visible to the street. He wanted to leave now, he thought, and not have to deal with encounters like this. He didn’t mind people taking an interest in him because he knew it would happen, and he knew it should happen. What if he wasn’t so well-adjusted and he really needed help but no one offered it? He’d rather have the help. But seeing the detective at his job was troubling to George, and it only reminded him, yet again, that his life wasn’t normal anymore and probably never would be, at least while he was living in the city.
After fifteen minutes, Buster emerged. They were starting to get an early dinner crowd, and George returned to help build sandwiches. The steady crowd kept him busy, but his mind was still on his thoughts. He needed out. Would he wait? He wanted to. He needed to finish high school to help make building his life easier. But as soon as he was finished, he’d be gone.
George looked up from his desk. Twenty-five years had passed since that day, and now he was an executive in his own private office. His secretary had come into the room and interupted his thoughts by sliding a box of mail onto a coffee table next to a fireplace he had inside his office. Denver’s winters were brutal, and George’s office was outfitted with several fireplaces, including this one. While it was gas, the one in their boardroom was wood-burning, impressing his clients and only pushing George’s wealth further into the stratosphere.
“Mr. Jones, there’s another letter from Elwood City, Massachusetts here,” the secretary announced. “Didn’t your name used to be Lundgren?” she questioned.
George nodded. He had changed it after college to further separate himself from his past. He wanted his hard work to decide his life, not his past. While his secretary knew about his old name, she didn’t know about his past, and he hoped she never would.
But he had to be honest in this moment, “Yes, it’s probably about a high school reunion. They couldn’t find me for the ten-year reunion, but something must’ve changed since then. I’ll continue to ignore it.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go back?” she asked.
George was positive. Once he’d found success, he decided to deal with his past once and for all. His parents were facing immence time behind bars, and their secrets couldn’t be pryed out even by several crime shows that decided to feature them. George had to unlock his own memories, so he worked with a psychologist and other experts.
What he discovered was a pile of memories that he never thought he could uncover. He could finally remember his sister, Jessica Leigh, and what she was like. She was his protector until one of those date nights. He was in the bath when his parents returned home. They were arguing downstairs, and since the babysitter had both kids in bed, the parents sent her away with forty dollars and took their fight to the master bedroom. Jessica just happened to walk in when his mother threw a particularly large music box in their father’s direction. Neil ducked, but it hit Jessica in the head as the peeked in to see what was going on. She was killed instantly, and their parents immediately began to cover up the issue.
George found out about that death because they told him, but the others were a mystery. That first memory when he was five was the only evidence he had that his mother had a problem, but he could remember his mother becoming stressed then returning home relaxed. She claimed it was because she’d gone to spa treatments, but George looked up the dates. He knew his mother had killed again, and that had helped offset her anger, rage, and stress.
Knowing the truth about his parents made him want to stay even further away from Elwood City. People there knew his story and pitied him. The people around him now likely knew nothing, which meant they never pitied him because they had no reason to. He had no reason to change that, and if anyone else heard more about Elwood City, they might begin piecing things together. He had to stay there.
The next day, his secretary brought in another letter. It was a handwritten one from a Mary Alice Stevenson, but George refused to open it. Without warning, his secretery closed the door and sat down across from him with a serious expression. George put down his pen and looked up to listen.
“I know,” she whispered, “and I know why you don’t want to go back there. I wouldn’t want to either, but your classmates need to see that you turned out okay despite everything.”
“How did you–?”
“I’m a crime show junkie. Do you think I wouldn’t come across your family’s story eventually? I’ve seen it on four different shows. Four different perspectives told me, and I knew it was your family. That’s why you never married, had kids, or went home. You were running, and that’s okay. You’re entitled to run, but sometimes you need to run home and face your demons,” she said with a great passion, her cheeks red from the effort of keeping her voice in a low whisper.
“I’ve dealt with my demons, what few I have, and I just don’t want to go back because I don’t want people to talk. I don’t want anyone else to be like you and figure this out,” George said.
She nodded, “I’ll protect your secrets. I’ll make sure that no one else puts the pieces together. Go to this reunion. Stay a few days and mingle with your old peers, then come back here and forget a little while longer. Can you go now?”
George smiled. He gave her some orders, then he returned home, packed his bags, and took the first flight towards Elwood City.
Buster sipped his beer as they looked out over the city. Buster had an apartment on the top floor of a complex built after George had left. The view was amazing, and the sunset looked almost like a picture painted right in front of their faces. George put down his bottle and looked to his friend. He hadn’t changed a bit, George thought, and George had heard the same thing ever since he got there.
Buster glanced at George, “I see you’ve done well for yourself. That might be a simple button-up, but I’ve seen that brand on Muffy’s husband dozens of times. They eat at the restaurant all the time,” Buster added, further reminding George that he’d turned out okay too. Buster got an inheritance from a family member, which he used to open a restaurant. Ten years later, it was the best in town, and it had even won major awards.
George pondered Buster’s callout. He went with it, “You busted me. I’m making good money and buying fine clothes. I even have cigars.”
“Wow, cigars. Muffy’s husband prefers exotic bottles of wine,” Buster grinned, putting down his half-empty bottle, “She thinks her letter brought you back here. I have my doubts. Your wife or someone like that must’ve told you to come back.”
“My secretary,” George nodded, “but we’re just colleagues. She’s been with me since I started my company, and while I pay her well and we occassionally talk about personal things, she’s not my wife. She just makes a lot of sense.”
Buster nodded, “I’ve had workers like that over the years. One of them is now my top chef, and she does a damn good job. I thought about asking her out, but you don’t ruin something like that with feelings. Besides, when you’ve been alone for as long as we have, sometimes you should keep the pattern. I could never keep a girl more than six months. You never even looked, did you?”
“I was engaged for six years,” George said, shaking his head, “I couldn’t commit, and now she lives in Jamaica with some millionaire and their three kids. There’s three others like that, but I was too secretive or didn’t make the right move at the right time. I couldn’t let any of them find out what happened back here.”
“But your secretary knows?” Buster asked. George nodded. Buster grinned, “Well, how much does she know?”
“Just what the documentaries say, which isn’t much. I…I finally figured out what happened,” George said, looking out to the sunset. He sighed, “She killed my sister by accident. She came to my room that night and told me she was going to check it out. They’d argued before, she said, but if she came in with a nightmare, it usually stopped them. It didn’t that night. It was an accident. My parents told me everything the next morning, every moment, but I forgot. I never thought about it again because they just made things so normal for us, but I know now. Every time she’d get stressed, she’d kill randomly, and then she’d be all better. Killing my sister taught my mom how to control her emotions, and it worked until it didn’t. She could’ve killed a hundred people and no one ever would’ve known.”
Buster sighed, “That’s some deep stuff, George. I’m surprised you haven’t told anyone yet, any of those documentaries.”
George smiled, “They never found me. I don’t know how since Muffy didn’t have much of a problem, but no one has ever contacted me about my parents. Their dream died the moment I fled from here, and now only a few people remember it. I could tell at the reunion. No one gave me those sick looks like they did in high school. They just saw me as a person, and I’m free now. I just thought you should know, but she doesn’t know. No one ever will, only me, and that’s the way it should be.”
Buster nodded, grabbing his beer and raising a toast to George. They clinked bottlenecks, a silent promise to never bring up the issue again. They just watched the sun set together on George’s last night in Elwood City. He would soon return to Denver and continue his life, and he could live out the rest of his life without any reminders from his tragic past.
Theme 183: Violent Crime
Character: Mrs. Lundgren
A/N: Theme from my Arthur Infinite Theme Challenge. I may’ve completed this one before, but I’m doing a new challenge where I randomly generate a theme number and a character number, then I write a piece. For this one, I got Mrs. Lundgren and Theme 183, so here you go. I hope you guys enjoyed this.