“Oh my God, I can’t believe that you don’t remember.”
“Yeah right, you’re just fucking with me.”
“I’m fucking with you?”
“You’re just making up shit like you always do.”
Lily is looking at me like she thinks my head’s gone all empty or something. She loves to mess with me. I know her.
“I can’t believe it,” she turns to Jess. “Can you?”
Jess just shrugs.
“Mum was out of her mind when you were gone, I think she thought you were dead,” Lily’s eyes are growing bigger, makes her look crazy almost. She has always been such a drama queen. “I mean it, the police came to our house,” she hesitates for a moment, looks a bit more serious than she normally does when she makes up stuff, “I remember hearing her being up crying at night.” She shakes her head. “Mum didn’t want to say anything, but I knew it had to be bad.” Lily looks down at one of the holes in her jeans. She started wearing them a while ago. Stupid.
“So I was gone for 9 days?”
“Yeah, 9 fucking days and you were like 8 so we thought you were dead.”
Lily takes another drag from her cigarette. When did she get like this, with holes in her jeans, smoking cigarettes? Feels like she’s trying too hard. Lily the rebel. Looks dumb if you ask me. Messing with my head is probably a part of it. This new role she’s playing.
“Jess, you remember, right?” she turns to Jess again, probably thinks that she can bully Jess into agreeing with her. “The police, didn’t they come and talk to you guys too?” Lily will be going off to college in a couple of days. Leaving me alone with mum. “There was all this talk of cars people had seen and men that had been lurking around,” she sighs, takes another drag, blows out the smoke in these little rings. “It felt bad, nobody wanted to say it, but it felt bad.” I wonder when she’ll get tired of this story, how long we’ll have to listen to this.
“And then after 9 days you were just back,” she bites her lip. Gets this worried look on her face that she used to get when she was a kid and she knew she was going to the dentist. “They said that I wasn’t allowed to ask you about it.” She turns to look at me. So finally she asked it seems and I just don’t remember. Must be quite disappointing.
“You’re so full of shit, Lily,” I get up, Jess gets up too.
“So Lily was lying?” Jess walks fast to keep up with me.
“Yeah, she lies all the time,” I don’t know why Lily gets to me, but she does, “about smoking and drinking and about which boys she’s dating or not dating I guess,” I’m just so angry, “she even lies about clothes,” I feel like I want to spit or something, “she puts on those jeans when mum doesn’t see her.” She actually does that, puts them on in the hallway sometimes. Not that I really think that mum would notice even if she had put them on right in front of her. “She tries too hard,” I feel bad when I say it, even if it is just to Jess, “wants to be something she is not,” like I’m selling Lily out or something. It’s not like she’s all bad. She’s always looked out for me. She really has. Just like a big sister is supposed to. It’s just now that’s she’s gone all stupid, talking shit that makes no sense at all.
“We could check, you know?” Jess says.
I don’t know why, but my heart starts beating faster. It just does. Hearts are stupid in that way. Hard to control. I just want to look at the road. Not think of it anymore. Just walk. Walk it off.
“Nah, there really is no need to.”
I can hear it. I say the words a little too fast. I don’t normally talk that fast. Shit. Lily really got to me. Just like she used to get to me when I was little and she would tell me scary stories.
“Oh come on,” Jess seems excited, as if this was some mystery on TV or something. “We can figure it out.” Looks at me like we are going to solve this one together. Figure out if I were missing like Lily says. Like it is no big deal. Like an 8 year old would go missing for 9 days for anything good. Like it wouldn’t be a shit story to figure out.
“I really don’t want to.”
“You sure?” She looks surprised. “I think I would want to know.” She really says that. She is even a worse liar than Lily.
“Well, I wouldn’t.”
I’m glad when I see the house. Mum is probably home. Probably sitting in front of the TV like she always does. I will go in there and I’ll say the same stuff that I always say and maybe she’ll answer. Doesn’t really matter either way. Lily said she had made something so there should be dinner waiting for me. Mum could ask me where Lily is, she could. Sometimes she does that. Not very often though, but it has happened. She could ask and then I will probably say something that isn’t true. Just like Lily, just like Jess. I’m a liar too.
I watch her while I’m eating. I can see her sitting in front of the TV from the kitchen table. The living room is so dark except from the little light that comes from the TV. Mum tends to not notice that it has gotten dark outside, that she should turn on some lights inside. Not that it really matters. Someone is laughing on the TV. They all seem to be talking at the same time, really annoying to be honest. I have no idea why mum would watch that. She doesn’t seem to notice all the fuss on the TV, just stares at it in the same way that she always does.
Lily has made spaghetti and meatballs. It isn’t bad. We eat it a lot though. Probably more often than anything else. Used to be my favorite when I was a kid. I push the little meatballs around on my plate. Did I eat this when I was 8 and had been gone for 9 days? Would mum have made this for me or was it Lily even back then? Put this in front of me because it was my favorite? I shake my head. Don’t like it when Lily gets her shit stories in there.
I get up, clean my plate and put it into the dishwasher. Go into the living room and turn on a lamp. Mum looks surprised at the extra light. Smiles at me, but then turn towards the TV again.
“What are you watching?”
Again she has this surprised look when she turns towards me, almost like she doesn’t get where the sounds come from, like she didn’t know I could talk.
“If you’re not watching the TV, we could turn it off you know?”
I can see her hands shaking. She doesn’t look at me. Holds on to the couch for a moment as if to try to hide it.
“No, no I like it best on.”
“Of course you do.” I try to smile, but it feels more like some strange grimace, like I don’t know how to do it anymore. I should go to bed. Should just sleep this off. That’s what you do, right? I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll feel better again. Forget all about Lily and her stories.
“Is Lily home?”
Mum actually asks me that, must be having a good day I guess.
“She’ll be home soon.”
I have no idea when Lily will be home. Lately she has stayed out so late, and there is this boy she’s seeing that I don’t really like. I don’t remember his name, it’s something like Mike or Jim. Some stupid name. Maybe I should just tell mum. She what she would do. Probably just sit there with her shaking hands watching TV just like she is doing now.
What would she have done when I was 8? In Lily’s story she was all worried, calling the police and staying up at night crying. You know, things that a real mum would do, but that was made up. Maybe Lily would have called the police if I had gone missing, gotten them to look for me. That could have happened, at least I think so, but I don’t really know. Maybe mum was better back then, maybe she could have called. It’s a silly thing to think about. Really just stupid. Nobody would have needed to call, I know that. You don’t have to call about stuff that is just made up.
So it’s early, but I have gone to sleep. Turned off the lights in my room. Closed my eyes. Still I can hear it ringing. I should have turned the sound off.
“What?” I say as I answer. Not polite, I know.
“Grumpy much?” I can hear Jess laughing on the other end.
I sigh. She becomes quiet. I don’t like it.
“Look, there’s something I need to tell you.”
The room suddenly feels too dark. It really does. Just like that with those words. Dark in a bad way. Not like it felt just minutes ago before Jess called, when it was just normal darkness. It feels bad now. I shouldn’t have turned off the lights.
“I don’t want to hear it Jess.”
“I’m serious, I think you need to hear this.”
You know how things can look different in the dark? I look down on the floor and I just get the feeling that something is moving down there, even though I know it isn’t. I know it’s just the pile of clothes that I left there. Clothes can’t be moving on their own. I can hear my breath going faster. Can feel my own hands start to shake, for a moment I almost feel like mum.
“Lily didn’t lie.”
“What do you mean she didn’t lie?”
I need to find the light. I get out of bed. Jump over the pile of clothes. My heart is beating so hard, almost hurting me, drowning out the other sounds. I feel dizzy, soon I’ll probably fall over. Pass out on the floor or something.
“You were gone for 9 days.”
I can’t find the light. I just can’t find the stupid light and it’s almost like I can’t breathe.
“Yeah, I’m so sorry, Allie.”
I can’t find it. I can’t find it. I feel like I could scream any moment. Scream so that there would be no more air left in my lungs. I drop the phone.
“The light,” I mumble, “I can’t find the light.” I feel my hands fumble in the darkness across the wall. I just can’t find the switch.
Suddenly the door opens. Almost right in my face.
“Are you okay?” Lily has that frown on her face like she isn’t getting any of what’s going on. I just stand there. Hold my hands behind my back to hide that they’re shaking. “Allie, are you okay?” Lily takes a step into the room. Turn on the light. Look around almost like she expects to find someone there, but there is no one there. Just the phone lying on the floor.
“No, I am okay, I just couldn’t find the light,” I say it like that’s a normal thing to be worried about when you’re 16. I shake my head again. Try to shake it off. Is that what mum sometimes do when something’s stressing her out? “Did you meet Mike?”
“Who’s Mike?” Lily looks confused.
“That boy you liked?”
“Oh you mean Marcus,” she hesitates, “no I think now that I’m going soon,” she scratches her head, “you know, might not be a good idea to get too involved.”
She is still looking around the room. Still has that frown on her face. “You’re really okay?” She says.
“Cause, you know, you can tell me if you’re not?”
“No, I know.”
Everything just feels silly now. The room looks just like normal when the light is turned on. Nothing scary about it.
“I didn’t mean to bring up that old stuff,” she says, still looking around the room, picks up my phone and puts it on my nightstand. Jess must have hung up. “I just think I’ve always wondered and I’ve just never asked.” She sighs. “But we don’t need to talk about things you don’t want to talk about.” I nod. Tomorrow will be her last day here. The next day she’ll leave early in the morning. She’ll drive away to college. Just like that.
“You got plans for tomorrow?” She says. Trying to smile. “We could hang out?”
“You and Jess wanna do something?”
Lily looks into my room. Jess came over this morning, wanted to make sure that I was okay.
“Yeah, sure,” It wasn’t like we were doing anything anyway. Just sitting in my room, not really talking about anything.
“We could go for a walk,” Lily hesitates, “go check out the forest?”
Lily doesn’t really like to go for stupid walks like that. She likes to do other things. Hang out with her friends and that boy Marcus I guess. She wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the fact that she’ll leave tomorrow.
“She isn’t having a good day,” Lily whispers to me as we go downstairs, doesn’t want Jess to hear, even though Jess isn’t stupid. Anyone can see that mum isn’t having a good day. She is just sitting in the couch looking at the TV which isn’t even on. Just sitting there not saying anything, but I can see that her hands are shaking.
“Mum, you want to listen to some music?” Lily say, and go towards the radio. Turns it on. Mum doesn’t seem to notice, but it looks better doesn’t it, that she is sitting like that when the radio is on.
Is it time to play this game this time around
It’s an old song. I can see mum get a strange frown on her face like she remembers it. I remember it to. Didn’t we used to play that song when dad used to live with us?
You are beautiful, but I don’t like your smile
Yeah I think so. He used to sing it to her, and she used to like it. I remember, at least I think I do. Mum being all happy and smiling. Dancing around. How old could I have been back then? Not old. Dad left when I was 5, right? Lily was like 7.
You got too many secrets I don’t know
In the beginning we used to see him, but then his new girlfriend got that baby and they moved so far away.
Oh I have held your hand too many times, to let somebody steal you now
“I don’t know about this song, Lily,” I say turning towards her, but she doesn’t seem to care.
Steal you now, steal you now, steal you now
Lily and Jess are already out the door. I stand there looking at mum.
Oh close your eyes and let me lock you in tight
Did dad steal mum? Leave this shell here for us? I don’t know. I used to think that you couldn’t steal a person, but now I don’t know. I think you can steal anything if you just put your mind to it.
Oh nobody will steal you now
“Do you think it is possible to steal a person?”
“What are you talking about?” Lily sounds annoyed. I have no idea why she wanted to go for a walk in the forest. Feels like something old people would do. I turn to Jess instead. Do you think it is possible to steal a person?”
“You mean like own them?” Jess says, but she too has that look on her face. Same look that Lily has. Like they think I am turning into mum. It is just a stupid question.
“You can’t steal a person and you can’t own them,” Lily says, sounding harsh.
“So we always have to be afraid of losing people?” I sound stupid. Sound like a kid. Sound exactly like someone would sound if their big sister were going away and they didn’t like it. Like a dumbass.
“No, I get it,” Jess says. She even smiles, even though I don’t think she gets it.
In two years, me and her we’ll also be going off to college. Maybe we’ll stay in touch and maybe not. Maybe we won’t even call each other. People do that all the time. Forget other people, just go on with their lives without them. Maybe Lily will forget to call. “I think you could steal a person,” Jess actually says that. I get it. She says it to be kind. “Lily do you think it’s a good idea to go up here?” Jess is looking at Lily. Lily has been leading the way up the forest path, but now she stops.
“What?” I say looking at Lily, but she just bites her lip. Doesn’t say anything. I turn towards Jess. “Why shouldn’t we go up here?” Jess sighs. Looks at Lily. We have always done that. Listened to Lily. Done what Lily did. The oldest knows best, right? It’s going to be weird when she isn’t her, when it’s just me and Jess.
“You came down from here,” Jess says, but she doesn’t want to look into my eyes.
“What do you mean?”
Jess doesn’t seem to want to say anything more, so I look at Lily again.
“Someone saw you when you came down this path,” Lily says, bites her lip again, “you know, when you were 8 and had been gone for those 9 days.”
I can feel it. Right away when they start talking about that stupid thing again my heart starts beating faster. That creepy, dizzy feeling comes. I feel like I have to sit down. Feel like everything is going dark even if it isn’t. “So you came from the forest,” Lily says, not looking at me, kicking at the ground. Is my breath really loud? Feels hard to get the air down into my lungs.
“I don’t know, but the police said there was an old house up here,” Lily still isn’t looking at me, just continues to talk about that stupid house. Did she do this walk on purpose, so that she could get the answer to that twisted question? She wouldn’t do that, would she? “I think the police thought you might have been in the cellar of that house.”
I turn around. I need to get back. Need to get back down. Go back home. Get back to mum who is probably still sitting there listening to the radio even if she doesn’t want to.
“You need to talk about it,” I can hear Lily say, “we can’t just go through life pretending like it didn’t happen.”
I just walk faster. Need to get away from them. Before I really know it, I’m running. Stupid Lily. Lily the rebel, is that what this is? I hate her. It will be a good thing when she leaves. I don’t need her. I don’t need mum either. I’ll be fine all alone. “Look how mum became,” I can hear her shout, but I don’t really care. I’m just running now. Strange feeling, even if I’m running the fastest I can, it feels slow. Feels like I really can’t get away from them.
“You’re really not going to say goodbye?” Lily is standing in the doorway to my room. It’s raining outside. Really pouring down. No need for me to get up. No need for me to go out on a day like this.
I heard her get up early this morning. Get all her things together. Makes some sort of breakfast for us both probably. I didn’t get up then and I am not planning to get up now, I just pull the sheets over my head. She can leave for college. I am ready for her to leave. “Oh, come on, Allie,” I can hear her say. She even comes up to my bed. Gives my shoulder a little push as if she thinks that’s going to help. “Jess is here.” She says, but it doesn’t really change my plans. I am just going to lie her in bed the whole day. Lily will leave. Mum will sit in the living room probably watching nothing, listening to nothing. Eventually Jess will leave too and none of it will matter.
“So, I really have to go now,” she says. I can hear her walk towards the door, but I don’t say anything. She stands there in the doorway for a while, looking at me probably, but then I can finally hear her go downstairs. A car pulls up outside the house and I can hear some of her friends shouting. Lily laughing and getting into the car, and then she is gone. Just like that.
It is strange, because I didn’t want to say goodbye, but then it suddenly feels hard to breathe again. Like the goodbye has gotten stuck in my throat or something. Like I really should have said it while I had the chance. I get up. Find some clothes. Go downstairs. The feeling just won’t let go. The choking feeling. Jess sits in the kitchen eating some of the breakfast that Lily must have made.
“I want to go there,” I just say.
She nods. Gets up right away. Almost like she knew that I would say that. Mum just sits there in the couch. Doesn’t say anything. I could leave now. Leave and never come back and I don’t think she would notice. I would be gone. Lily would be gone. Dad would be gone and it would just be mum left. Maybe she would prefer it that way.
“It’s raining,” Jess says as I go outside, but I don’t stop to bring a coat. Doesn’t really matter. “Are you sure you wanna go there?” she hurries after me.
“Yeah,” I say, but it’s a lie, I ‘m not sure. Not sure at all.
This time Jess is leading the way. Walks faster than Lily. Like she is in a hurry to get this thing done. I know the feeling. The mud is sticking to my shoes as we get into the forest. Jess brought my coat but I don’t take it. The rain is pouring down. “How did you find out?” I say, not looking at her. Just looking at that stupid path.
“What did they say?” She looks worried. Doesn’t seem to want to tell me. People are always like that, when you don’t want to know they want to tell you all kinds of shit, but when you want to know they just don’t want to say anything.
“What did they say, Jess?”
The path is getting steeper. Too much mud. Too much rain. An easy path to hate to be honest.
“That is was an abandoned house,” she seems insecure, as if she is afraid to remember it wrong, “an old lady used to own it, but she had died the year before.”
“You weren’t hurt.”
She turns towards me. “They couldn’t find any marks on you or anything,” she looks so sad, even if I guess this must be a good thing, right? At least no obvious marks. “You were perfectly healthy it said,” we continue up the path. It is almost too steep.
“She didn’t report me missing, right away, did she?”
The rain is getting worse. The path is getting slippery and it is hard to walk.
“No she didn’t.”
9 days is just a lot of days. It really is. Many days. The path just goes upwards and upwards. Hard to believe that an old lady could have lived up here.
“Did my dad know about it?”
I almost slip and fall for a second, but Jess helps me. Grabs on to my arm. I get up again.
“There was something about them struggling to get in touch with him,” we just continue. Into the forest. Feels like the stupidest place to go on a day like this.
“Is it far?”
I look at Jess.
“No, it is not that far now, “she smiles.
The trees are planted too close. Makes the forest darker than it should be. Nothing seems to be able to grow at the ground. No sun getting through probably. Not much rain either. I sigh. We just walk. Jess in the front. Me behind her. We don’t say anything. Really nothing more to say.
The house looks so small. Just an abandoned house in the middle of the forest. Windows all dark, some of the windows are broken. Just one window for the cellar though and it’s just so small I wouldn’t be able to get out there. I would be stuck in that cellar, wouldn’t I?
“How did I get out?”
“It didn’t say.”
We stop in front of the house. The paint is peeling off the walls. Looks like nobody has been here for years. “You really don’t remember anything?” I don’t answer. Just stand there looking at the cellar door. The door doesn’t fit perfectly, so some light would get in under the door and on the sides, but it looks sturdy enough, and there is a key. A key in the door.
“You think I was in there?”
My heart is beating too fast again as I go down the stairs leading to the cellar door. Push it open. It is dark in there. Of course it would be. I can see a lamp hanging from the ceiling and I go towards it, fumble for the switch. I find it and the cellar is lit up.
“I remember something,” I whisper, turn towards Jess. “I think they pushed the food in under the door.”
She looks towards the door. “You remember anything more?”
“Do you think you can steal a person?” It feels strange to say that again, because we already talked about it.
“What do you mean?” Jess says.
“Like own them, so they couldn’t get away from you anymore,” I swallow, “even if they wanted to?”
The cellar isn’t cold and I was here when it was summer, wasn’t I?
I look at Jess. We have been best friends forever. Forever is a long time I guess.
“I would steal you,” Jess smiles, but she looks sad. The rain is still pouring down. My heart is beating faster.
“Was it you?” I almost can’t breathe, my head feels dizzy, «You locked me in here?”
She nods. I sit down. On this small chair. Did I sit on this chair when I was 8? Sat there and waited for her to come back? Waited for her to bring me food? Waited for her to let me out? She stands in the door. The key is in her hand.
“I stole you,” she whispers, “and now it is your turn.”
I get up, can feel my feet being wobbly. “I left a note for my parents,” she smiles, still this sad smile, “they’ll think I ran away.” I nod. Take the key from her hand.
“So how is everything at home?”
Lily sounds strange on the phone.
“What the hell is going on with Jess,” gossip travels fast it seems, “she really ran off with a boy?”
Mum looks up, but doesn’t ask to talk with Lily. I’ve made spaghetti and meatballs today. Didn’t taste as good as it does when Lily makes it, but it was still pretty good. I have packed some in a little container. I look at it where it stands on the counter. It is just the right size, could easily be slid under a door.
I hope you have enjoyed “The Thief”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories
About the song: Vocals/Lyrics/Ukulele/Music composition: Therese J (Me)
Mixing: Dan Grubbs
Bass: Alexander Hofmann
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If you like the that have been used to illustrate this short story, some of them are from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first and the second photo is by phaewilk, the third, seventh and tenth photo is by utoplec, the fourth photo is by kconnors, the sixth photo is by jade, the eighth photo is by Alvimann.
© Hilde Therese Juvodden, MyStoriesWithMusic, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hilde T.Juvodden and MyStoriesWithMusic with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – Simply don’t steal my stuff 😊