I hoped there were a couple of cans of open paint back there and they had spil ed. But as I sniffed the air, it wasn’t the scent of turpentine that fil ed them, but that terrible raw meat smel that plagued me many times before. I don’t know why I had been so naïve to think that someone painted my dad’s wal s with actual paint. It wasn’t paint at all .
It was blood.
“I’m going to open it,” Ada said, and made a move for it, bending down.
“Are you crazy?” I hissed and grabbed her roughly. I pul ed her back. “You don’t know what’s in there.”
“Whatever it is, it’s messing up my kitchen,” my mother said blankly. And before I could let go of Ada and go after her, my mother put both her hands on the cupboard knobs and swung the doors open.
The body of a headless pig burst out of the cupboard and onto the kitchen floor with a sick thud, its coat already more red than pink. It had been split up the middle and its gooey, slimy organs and entrails spil ed out like an unraveling rope, splashing the three of us with drops of acidic liquid as they spread across the bloody puddle.
What I remember next was screaming. all of us were screaming and running out of the house and onto the driveway. Ada went to go vomit in the bushes while my mother flapped her hands like a flightless bird and I chewed on the col ar of my t-shirt while simultaneously trying to pul it down to cover my exposed legs as the morning air nipped at them.
It was disgusting, is what it was. Disgusting and disturbing. Where exactly was that pig’s head? I shuddered. But I wasn’t taking it as hard as Ada and my mother were. I guess I had a lot more experience with this stuff than they did. Not that it was a good thing.
“Guys, it’s OK,” I said coming over to them, the rough bricks cold against my feet. I grabbed my mom’s hand and squeezed it hard, stopping her useless waving. “Mom, it’s fine. The police are coming. They’l find out...” I almost said what, “who did this.”
She nodded, the whites of her eyes shining spookily as she surveyed the neighborhood. I know she was thinking it could have been anyone, that there was someone out there plotting against her, plotting against her family. It could have been true. I didn’t know for a fact it was Abby. In fact, since my dad was a theology professor, it could have been a number of disgruntled students. Maybe someone he failed.
They would know exactly how to get back at him, how to disturb him.
That said, it didn’t explain how it could have happened without anyone hearing anything. And I knew, deep down, where the dreaded feeling stayed, that it had something to do with me. This was about me and this was retribution from a dead girl.
I never thought I could hate a ghost so much.
When Ada was done upchucking (I real y had seen way too much vomit in the past few weeks), she got a hold of herself and helped me convince our mom that everything was going to be fine. Sure, someone came and destroyed dad’s study and painted pentagrams everywhere with blood, and there’s a gutted, headless pig in the kitchen and speaking of that, let’s see where the head turns up, but I’m sure the police see this kind of stuff all the time. It’s Portland, man. It’s weird!
At least her arm flapping and psycho eye-rol ing had stopped before the police car pul ed up. Officers Hartley and Monroe were the first on the scene. Hartley was young with a Channing Tatum vibe, dumb-looking but personable, while Monroe was in her mid-30s, black, pretty and obviously the brains of the operation.
I only had to talk to them for five minutes before we entered the house and I ran to my room to put on a bra and a pair of pants. By the time I joined them back downstairs, Channing was talking to my mom and Ada in the living room while Monroe was investigating the house room by room. She was coming out of the kitchen when she saw me and cal ed me over to her.
I approached her cautiously, not wanting to get close to the carcass, which I could smel too clearly.
“Perry, right?” she asked in a concise voice.
“Your mother mentioned that the neighbor’s dog tried to attack you the other day.”
My jaw tried to drop, but I held it shut against its wil .
“It did,” I said, lowering my voice. “His name is Cheerio.
He’s normal y the friendliest dog around, so I don’t know what happened. But he went for me like he was going to kil me.”
Monroe looked over my shoulder toward the living room and nodded as if she understood. We walked away from the kitchen, stopping by the front door.
“Do you know why your mother might have told me that?”
I sucked on my lip while I sussed her out.
“Is it true that this same neighbor who owns Cheerio, owns a few pigs?” she asked with a tilt of her head.
I nodded as everything started coming together in a most horrible way.
“This was her pig, wasn’t it?” I asked. Suddenly I felt extremely bad. Yes, her dog went psycho, but the neighbor bungled her knee and now one of her pigs was dead and headless in our house.
“We’re going to go check on that,” she said matter-of- factly. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t hold any grudges.”
She didn’t say anything. She let out a sigh from the corner of her mouth and kept her eyes focused on mine, waiting for me to figure it out.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You think I went and murdered my neighbor’s pig. Her huge honking pig? Dragged it over here, diced it open, chopped off its head and stuck it under my sink? Because her dog tried to attack me?”
“Stranger things have happened, Miss Palomino.”
I was nearly speechless. I put my hand to my chest and tried to smother the rage.
“I’m sorry, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here. This has nothing to do with teaching her a lesson, this is about teaching my family a lesson. Teaching me a lesson.”
The officer frowned at me. “Who said anything about teaching someone a lesson?”
Her eyes squinted at me. “Where were you last night?
Were you out?”
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t believe the way this was going. Why did my mom even bring that whole thing up about the dog? What did that have to do with anything?
“Yes, I was out.”
“When did you get home?”
“3 a.m.,” I replied warily. “I’m sorry, but am I under investigation now?”
Monroe sighed and brought out her note pad. She scribbled something down as she talked, but I was too far away to see what it was. “I’m just doing my job and trying to piece together a timeline for when this could have happened. Obviously, no one in your family saw anything, but we won’t know for sure until your father gets back.”
My father. That was not going to be pretty.
A low growling noise stopped me in my tracks. To the left, by the neighbor’s fence, I could see the silhouette of Cheerio, snuffling and snapping at my presence. Even though the fence was thick with old knotted wood and a prickly bush spread out at its base, I entertained the thought of hopping over it into their yard and teaching the dog a lesson.
“Perry!” I heard my mother’s voice near my ear and I was suddenly aware that she had been yel ing it a few times already.
She was at my side, clutching her shawl with her dainty hand. In the afternoon light, its mint tone matched the fading grass at my feet.
“What are you doing out here? Where are your shoes?”
I looked down at my feet. I was wearing my pajama pants from earlier, along with a hoodie. My hair was tied back into a ponytail. I didn’t know where my shoes were.
Come to think of it, I had no idea why I was standing in the depths of our back yard, just staring at the neighbor’s fence. What wa s I doing out there? Where had I been before? Once again, I couldn’t remember.
“What were you going to do to the dog?” she asked quietly.
I looked at her as if she had two heads.
“Why are you standing out here?”
“I…I…needed fresh air.”
My mom’s eyes roamed all over my face, her lips pursed as she thought about who knows what. Probably that I was a pig kil er. Then she took my hand and said in her extra- gentle, fabric softener voice, “You look cold, pumpkin.
Come on inside.”
That tone of voice brought back some pretty dicey memories. It was like déjà vu to high school all over again.
I forced a smile at her as we walked back up the damp grass to the house. I couldn’t get too wrapped up in what she thought and I couldn’t let her worry about me any more than she needed to. She had my dad to worry about. When he came home to see Officers Monroe, Hartley, and a few other cops taking photos of the house, he nearly had a heart attack. When he found out exactly what happened, his skin went so pale, I swore I could see his skul underneath. I thought he was going to scream or maybe throw up (seemed like the thing to do these days) but he just absorbed it all and shook. That was far scarier. My dad needed to throw things and yel and flip tables. That was his thing. That’s how he dealt with life. The fact that he just took it and kept it inside made me feel queasy. There was official y too much anger and fright in this household and it was only going to get worse.
We went up the back patio steps and through the back French doors into the house and walked past the study without even a glance. I was afraid to look. It was shut and tomorrow there would be a team coming over to clean it but I could stil feel the evil seeping through the cracks.
My mother sat down next to Ada and my father in the living room. They were watching A Fistful of Dollars but they weren’t real y watching it. They were watching each other. Watching the house. And getting lost in their own heads.
There was a small part of me that was almost glad that they were freaked out. It was comforting to know I didn’t have to suffer alone, even though they only knew a very small percentage of what was going on. I wanted to keep them in the dark about the rest for as long as possible and there was only one way to do that. I had to know what I was dealing with and how to get rid of it.
I know Maximus had said he’d talk to me in a few days, but I didn’t have a few days. I couldn’t explain it, but it felt like I was running out of time. Besides, I didn’t mind kissing him again. I welcomed that whole distraction with open lips.
I mean arms.
Taking my phone out of my hoodie pocket, I cal ed him and went up the stairs to my room to finish the cal in private.
“Darling,” he answered.
I smiled and hoped he could hear it over the phone.
“Hey. How are you?”
“I’m…I’ve felt better. Good ol’ whiskey head. My apologies that I didn’t cal you earlier.”
“That’s OK,” I said, having forgotten myself in all the commotion. I thought I heard a girl giggle in the background. My brow furrowed automatical y. “Where are you?”
He cleared his throat. “I’m out getting some fresh air. You know, at the market. It’s just wrapping up. Great tacos here.”