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Rabbits in the garden, p.20

Rabbits in the Garden, page 20


Rabbits in the Garden

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  “But I don't know how,” Avery mewled into her father's bloody shirt.

  “I know it’s a lot to ask, but we need you to do this. This is bigger than all of us.”

  “We'll help you, Avery. We wouldn't let you do this alone. Faye has ruined us all,” Paul said and started to embrace her again.

  She was still afraid, but she walked into his arms. She ignored how his chapped hands tugged at her hair as he ran his fingers through it and lovingly hugged his scorched arms tighter.

  “I'll do it,” she said.

  “You will?” Natalie asked and Flint graciously threw her arms around Avery with a squeal. “But I still don’t know how I’m supposed to beat her.”

  “Dig through your mind and you'll find the perfect way to exact your vengeance, as well as save Sophie from a corrupted life,” Flint replied. “Take some time and think of everything Faye put you through: every torture you didn't deserve, every punishment you were made to endure. Six years in Taunton was a long time to suffer, Avery. Why not see if you can condense it?”

  “I’m ready now. Let's get it over with.”

  “This isn't something that should be done in haste. If you rush, you may fail. How do you expect to trick Mom into meeting up with you in the first place if she refuses to see you or hear your voice? If you go to her, she might do something to my daughter.”

  “Then how am I supposed to do this?”

  “Time, my love,” Paul whispered and kissed her cheek. “We've waited so long for freedom to be within our grasp, and we can't risk lunging for it. We must coax it into our hands, into your hands.”

  “We believe in you, Avery,” they chanted.

  “What if I fail?”

  “You won't. All you have to do is be the 'Little Avery Norton' the world always thought you were,” Paul said.

  “Teach me how,” she said emphatically, and the corpses shared a collective smile.

  “First things first: repeat after me and try to imitate my voice as closely as possible,” Natalie replied, and Avery mimicked her perfectly.

  “Mom,” Avery said in her sister’s voice, “I think there's something we need to discuss.”

  Compared to her years in Taunton, three months in the woods of Oak Bluffs was a breeze. She still had to be on her guard though. She avoided her mother's usual haunts and although she had to resort to theft in order to procure money and food, she was able to justify it as easily as the hospital fire. If she did have a moment of doubt, she had dozens of people around her assuring her that it was all for the greater good. She slipped around the island like a ghost, stealing in and out of the shadows and hiding her face behind scarves. If anyone recognized her, they never showed it. She’d once spotted Faye coming out of Hilliard’s, but because Natalie urged her to keep her distance, she was forced to watch from afar. Avery learned her lessons well; she listened and obeyed and believed them every time they told her that she could prevail. She began to know their minds and speak in their voices without provocation, and as each day passed, Avery reveled deeper in every murderous scenario centered on Faye. Every day, she prayed it would be the one on which she’d get to enact their plans, but every day, they told her to wait.

  “Soon, my love,” she whispered in Paul’s voice, and Flint’s mind caused Avery's fingers to twitch with thoughts of fiery destruction.

  When the time finally came, she wasted no time in buying the tickets for the ferry. She didn't need much in the way of clothes or creature comforts; all she needed was the bag she'd been filling over the past three months with her own variety of gardening tools. Her hands were shaking with excitement as she dialed her mother's number from the payphone at the bus depot, and when Faye answered cheerfully above the sound of Sophie crying, it took all of Avery's will to maintain her composure. But when she spoke, she didn't have to try to talk in a certain voice; they came without effort. After so many months in their company, she truly felt like they had become a part of her.

  “Why is Sophie crying?” Natalie asked.

  “Who is this?”

  “What have you been doing to her?”

  “Who is this?” she asked again.

  “I know you recognize my voice, Mom. Did you expect it to be scratchier after you burned me to a crisp?”

  “That isn't funny. Who the heck is this?” Faye demanded.

  “It's not supposed to be funny. Murder is never funny, at least not to the victim,” Natalie replied.

  “But I bet you were laughing your ass off when the boat exploded,” Paul said. “I bet you thought you'd finally won, but just because you kill someone doesn't mean they disappear. They never disappear completely. Just like us. We're still here, Faye, and we're waiting for you.”

  “Oh my goodness! Avery? Is that you?” Faye gasped.

  “We need to see you, Faye, and I think you need to see us.”

  “What's happened to you, Avery?”

  “Nothing that didn't start with you. You taught me well about tending the garden, but Mom,” Natalie said, “I think there's something we need to discuss.”


  “Now. There's a ticket for you at the Steamship Authority. Take your car onto ferry and drive here. We'll be waiting for you.”

  “Drive where?”

  “Where else? Taunton Asylum,” Natalie replied, and in her own voice, Avery added, “I'll see you soon, Mom.”


  Crouched on the floor of room 8, Avery set aside her diary to reach for what was hidden beneath it. Shining like a piece of brass at the end of a bloody rainbow, the first ring Paul had given her waited in the ashes of a former life. Holding it to her chest, Avery remembered how much it had meant to her and how angry she'd been when her mother stole it away. It felt different now. It was as if its weight had increased with each emotion she'd tied to it. She wished Paul was there to see her unearthing it, but when Avery had stepped through the dilapidated doors of Taunton, her deceased companions had stayed behind.

  “What if I need you in there?” Avery protested.

  “This is your day, Avery. Enjoy it for all of us,” her father replied and handed her the bag of gardening tools with an encouraging smile, but before she could face Taunton again, she needed more strength.

  Paul kissed her tenderly and Natalie held her tightly, but they never could’ve understood what she was feeling. They weren’t the ones who could help her now. Flint held her hand as the doctors, nurses, and patients of Taunton encircled her. Those who still retained two eyes had both firmly fixed on Avery. Even Brianne’s sidekick was staring at her. Although she had been the one to bury them in flames, there was no animosity in their faces. There was only a look of sincere certainty that Avery could and would triumph over Faye, as well as her past.

  She heard a noise from outside and wrapped her hands around the bars as she looked outside. Faye was pulling her car to a halt, and when she got out, her eyes started furiously scanning the husk of a hospital. As she loaded Sophie into the carriage and began pushing it toward Taunton, those whose deaths had originated with her fixed their eyes upon Avery and grinned for what was to come.

  Avery heard the clacking and squealing of the stroller's wheels on the sun bridge floor, but she felt no need to hurry. It was a poignant, albeit surreal, thing to be standing in her old room blackened by the fire of her freedom and look down upon those that the fire had claimed. She didn’t ever want to relinquish the feeling, but in the end, it would be worth it to let go. She had work to do and this time, she had to succeed. She owed it to each and every rabbit in the garden. The echo of Avery's name ringing from her mother's lips in false confidence sounded like a beautiful overture that danced her out of her room and into the lounge. The ward doors creaked as Faye walked in with the stroller, and she stopped abruptly when she saw Avery leaning against the remnants of the sofa.

  “So it is you,” she said.

  She marched forward with her chin raised, but when she came within a few feet of her daughter,
Avery stood and lifted her own head to reflect her mother's brazen pride. Surprisingly, it caused Faye to drop back a pace, and seeing her do so drew Avery forward boastfully.

  “Hi, Mom. I have to admit, I’m surprised you showed.”

  “I didn’t realize how far gone you really were until you called. I had to come. I couldn’t let my child waste away in sickness, could I?”

  “Yes, I suppose I am sick now, but it took this place to get me there. And you, of course.”

  “Me?” she replied in dramatic outrage. “Avery, all I've ever tried to do is raise you to be a good, decent woman.”

  “You raised me to be like you: elitist, puritanical, judgmental, and most of all, a murderer.”

  “Wrong!” she snapped harshly, and Sophie started to cry; she picked her up and bounced her gently until she was quiet again. “Yes,” she continued calmly. “I'm not so illogical as to deny that I wanted my children to share my ideals, but I never raised you to be a murderer. I raised you to be a teacher, just as I have always been your teacher. Sometimes when students get out of line, they need a smack on the knuckles. That's all. Just a quick smack to help them learn. You wouldn’t take root, so I girdled you.”

  “You really are fucking crazy.”

  “That's enough of that. I won't stand here and listen to that filth.”

  “You won’t be standing for much longer anyway,” Avery replied. “You do know this is the end, don't you?”

  “Yes, I do,” Faye said as she removed a pistol from her jacket pocket.

  “Where did you get that?”

  “I have my ways of procuring things. I always have.”

  “I know. I know how you overpowered people twice your size and half your age. I know because it was done to me over and over and over again. You drugged them. You injected them with a sedative, didn't you? And I know how you got them: from Dad. You stole drugs from Dad and the hospital. You coerced people into getting things with fear and superiority as you always have.”

  “Those are your words, your perceptions. You've built me up into some menacing caricature of myself. It's just another symptom of your diseased mind,” she replied and then let out a cry as she crossed herself. “Oh God, why my child? Why did you choose to test her like this?”

  “If there is a God, he must hate everything about you.”

  “You've made me into a monster, but what have I done that any other parent wouldn't do? I tried to teach you right from wrong. Is it my fault that you chose the wrong path?”

  “You have a fucked up view of what it is to be wrong.”

  “Enough!” she screamed and cocked the gun.

  “Are you going to shoot me for cursing, Mom? Is that one of your criteria for justifiable homicide?”

  “You said something about 'the end', Avery. Was this it? Are you going to talk me to death?” Faye chuckled.

  “What makes you think I came here to kill you?” Avery asked and her mother scoff. “If you believed that, why did you come? To murder your last living child in front of your granddaughter?”

  “It would be a good lesson for her,” Faye mused. “As for why I came, I guess I was intrigued by your madness. Pretending to be Natalie...”

  “I wasn't pretending. She was there with me. She was always there. So was Paul and Flint - and Dad,” she replied, and Faye's eyes widened dramatically.

  “You've seen your father?”

  “Yes. It was really difficult at first. He looked so…well, you really did a number on him, Mom. You cut him up. You slit his throat,” she said.

  “Oh, Avery, you’re much sicker than I thought.”

  “You made me this way! You made me see these things!” she exploded with a roar that shook Taunton’s weakened walls.

  “No, Avery. You may enjoy placing the blame on me, but this started long before our altercations. This started with him. With Jason and Lily,” Faye snarled.

  “Lily? Aunt Lily? What does she have to do with this?”

  “Why do you want to go back?” she asked as she locked Avery in the crosshairs of her pistol. “Why should we get into this when we both know it won't make a lick of difference?”

  “Maybe if you could help me understand your motives...”

  “Even if I could, I would never condone yours. Lessons, Avery, are the precursors to learning, and you've learned nothing. You're still that little girl: so eager to please, so short-sighted. Naivety is endearing for only so long.”

  “Take your shot then. I know a lot of people outside that are just as certain of your failure as I am. Go ahead, Mom. Kill me.”

  Avery felt her intake of breath as a collective gulp from all of those people who believed in her. She was afraid but not so afraid that she broke her stance in the slightest when Faye pulled the trigger. She heard the walls shudder and a window pane break, but before the smoke cleared, Avery reached into her gardening bag and hurled a syringe in Faye's direction. A yelp and a thud echoed the gunshot, and Avery advanced on her mother with the cheers of corpses bellowing in her mind. The needle was stuck in her chest, but as she squirmed across the floor, the syringe flopped over and worked its way sideways until it began to poke through her skin. Avery knelt down and watched in awe as Faye's fingers clawed the air around the needle as if she could will it out of her flesh. Avery’s second syringe found a vein in Faye’s arm, and she pushed the plunger with a gasp that became a sigh as soon as the syringe was empty. It was obvious that Faye was trying to fight her sudden fatigue.

  “It's difficult, isn't it: knowing that you've lost? I remember that feeling very well. The feeling of slipping away, losing control and never knowing where or when you'd get it back again. It's a horrible thing to experience, and it’s something I had to endure on almost a daily basis here. That wasn't the worst of my experiences though. Those are still to come,” Avery whispered and Faye's eyes fluttered closed.

  Only one of the bathtubs remained intact, and although the room was covered in ash, it was no less grimy that Avery remembered it. At least the ash covered the mildew. She peeled off Faye’s coat and saw a familiar gleam around her mother’s neck. The object itself was familiar, but so was the occurrence of seeing a ring Paul had given her around Faye’s neck. She reached for her engagement ring but halted before grasping it. No, her mind said in Paul’s voice. Not yet. You’ve been denied so many things. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of seeing her reaction when you take it back. After drawing the bonds around Faye’s wrists tight, she dipped her hands into Sophie carriage. The baby made a soft sound of concern, but once she was enveloped by Avery’s arms, she nestled against her shoulder and went back to sleep.

  Before Avery had entered Taunton again, Violet instructed her on where to go. It was a place Avery had never seen but Violet had seen more times than she cared to say. She slowly made her way into the bowels of Taunton, to the place that had screamed so often that the din had become just white noise. The majority of the basement was untouched by the fire and the electricity was still working. However, when Avery flipped on the light in one of the rooms, she wished it had been. It looked whoever had been working in there left in a hurry. The scalpels were hastily tossed aside and bloody rags were strewn across the benches and floor, but the most haphazardly discarded object was the gaunt corpse on the operating table with its head hanging back over the edge. There was a scar on the girl’s forehead, but there was a newer wound next to it, gaping and brown. Avery then understood why, among the charred carcasses of her companions, Violet wasn’t burnt. There were dozens of other operating rooms, and Violet wasn’t the only one left to bleed out when the doctors smelled smoke. Avery suddenly felt deep remorse for the countless times she’d tuned out the screams, but she couldn’t allow herself to wallow. She resumed the path Violet had told her about until she reached the storage closet Nurse Meredith had mentioned. Inside, she found the ice machine, still operational, and several buckets. With Sophie curled against her, she shoveled the ice into the buckets. It took several trips to get
as many buckets as she thought necessary, but Faye never batted an eye and Sophie never stirred. It was the most Avery had ever seen anyone sleep in Taunton.

  “Time to wake up,” Avery chirped as she poured a bucket of ice into the bathtub.

  The second it hit Faye's skin, she awoke with a wheezing gasp. She pulled at the ropes tethering her to the tub, and after dumping in another bucket, Avery sat quietly and watched, just as so many nurses had watched her. Faye screamed and kicked her feet as the chunks of ice sloshed around in the freezing water, but Avery retained her serenity and calmly wiped away the water that splashed across her.

  “Why are you doing this? Why are you torturing me?” Faye whined.

  “That sounds familiar. At least you still have your clothes on. I doubt it makes too much difference, but at least you don't have the added embarrassment of being naked. It's like that around here, you know? No privacy. Sometimes that's a torture in itself.”

  “What do you want, Avery? What will make you stop this madness?” Faye asked through chattering teeth.

  “I want a lot of things, Mom. For starters, I want to be twelve again. I want to live those six years as I should have, to be at home surrounded by my friends and family. But I know I can't ever have that. Even if I could change what happened that day in the garden, it wouldn't change the kind of person you are. If it hadn't happened to me at twelve, it probably would've happened at thirteen. You would've never left me alone.”

  “What kind of mother would I be if I did? I know the kind of things Natalie did when she was alone, and I could see that you were starting down that road too.”

  “What road?”

  “The one that leads to the mistakes that could've ruined your life.”

  “You mean mistakes that would've ruined your life. I avoided that road, and look at me: my life was ruined anyway. You saw to that yourself,” Avery replied. “I guess what I really want is to know why you felt the need to stifle us and punish so harshly when we broke one of your inane rules. And I want to know exactly happened to Dad.”

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