Recluse

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It was Friday. Rainy, as the days seemed to be recently. Darker than the usual and made even gloomier by the lack of people outside.

That particular day, I drove to the Rothschild mansion after receiving a message from its owner. Micah Rothschild, 30 years old this year, prime suspect of a double murder case six years ago. He was set free due to lack of evidence, and the case was eventually buried under all the newer ones. Micah, who used to be a promising musician and artist, now lived as a recluse in the mansion where his family used to reside in.

I ring the antique doorbell by the heavy wooden front doors and its deep sound echoes throughout the house. I don’t hear anyone approaching, so I raise my hand to ring it again but the doors open silently and a swath of pale light illuminates the doorway.

The girl who answers the door is without a doubt one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Small and pale, with masses of wavy dark hair loose around her face and shoulders. Her face is pointed and elfin, with huge dark eyes and long eyelashes that cast shadows on her cheeks. Her mouth is tiny and red, and when she smiles, tiny pointed teeth glimmer in the light.

“Good evening, my name is Dr. Carl Schafer,” I introduce myself, holding out my hand. “I’m here to see Micah Rothschild–” But she has already turned away, motioning for me to follow.

I step inside the dimly lit house, feeling a subtle chill pervade my senses. The house is still decorated sumptuously, but it looks so lonely and abandoned that no matter how beautiful it was, it still feels like a haunted house. I follow the girl through a hallway lit with crystal chandeliers, trying not to glance at the portraits of the long-dead family members that adorn the walls.

We enter an alcove room with a high ceiling that is painted with angels. The angels in the ceiling do not look like traditional angels, however. They look fierce and warrior-like, with multiple wings and fanged teeth and clawed hands, wielding bloodstained weapons at their sides. Some of them even have more than two eyes.

“Fascinating, arent’ they?” A voice asks quietly. “Those are the Biblical depictions of angels. My ancestors thought that the cherubs of the Church looked revolting, so they had these painted here.”

I find Micah Rothschild in an easy chair by the fire. He is dressed in black pants, a black button-down shirt, and black boots. His dark hair has grown long, almost obscuring his pale blue eyes. He looks up at me, then nods to the easy chair adjacent to his. I set down my bag, take out my tablet, and sink down in the chair. It’s so comfortable that it feels like it’s swallowing me alive.

“That is certainly an interesting take on angels,” I answer diplomatically, powering up my tablet. “I am Dr. Schafer, Mr. Rothschild. It’s nice to meet you.”

He sighs. He’s a handsome man, even with his long and unkempt hair and his general aura of condescension. I wonder how he’s related to the pretty girl who let me in the house. She has disappeared from sight, which was probably for the best. I would have had difficulty taking my eyes off her, had she stayed.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” he says abruptly. “You’re probably wondering why I have called for you.”

I nod. “It’s quite unusual, seeing as you are usually very adamant that you don’t want to receive psychiatric assistance.”

“Well, I’ve decided that I need some now,” he says, a smirk quirking up one side of his lips. “Not psychiatric assistance, though. Just…someone to talk to. Someone who will listen to me, unbiased, and record my story.”

“Why now, Micah? You could have told them your side of the story a long time ago.”

He seems restless. He rakes back his long hair with one hand, and his sleeve dips back enough to show me faint scars that look like cuts, bite marks, and puncture wounds on his wrist. “Death is imminent, Dr. Schafer. I am not sick, no, but I feel as if my time is running out. And when death descends on me, I want my story to be known.”

It’s not uncommon for mentally or emotionally disturbed people to feel paranoia. I shrug, then settle back on the chair, my eyes intent on him. “Then let’s see what I can do.”

Micah looks at me briefly, then stares back into the fire. “Where shall we start?”

“Just…talk.”

“Of all the deaths?”

“All of them. Your sister seems to be in the middle of all of this. It’s almost as if Death follows in her wake.”

He sighs again. “All right.”

There was a silent pause, then he begins to talk.

“You know my twin sister, Karin, right? Five years ago, during the end of the year, the news couldn’t shut up about her. She was found dead on a rooftop, and her boyfriend Christian was brought to the hospital, dead on arrival, due to a traffic accident.” He expelled the air he had been holding back. “Both deaths…they were blamed on me.”

I make a noncommittal noise. “And how do you feel about that?”

He laughs. It’s a startlingly cheerful sound. “Don’t give me that psychiatrist crap.”

“But I’m curious. I really do want to know.”

“Well…” he glances at me, his eyes sharp and keen. “I felt nothing. Those deaths really were my fault, after all.”

There’s silence. Micah does not take his eyes off me.

“Are you saying that you had a hand in orchestrating their deaths?”

He smiles. “I killed them, Dr. Schafer. I gave Karin the drug, I ran Christian over with a delivery truck.”

I compose myself. It’s difficult, but I succeed eventually. “What pushed you to commit murder, Micah?”

He stares at the Rothschild family portrait above the fireplace. The beautiful parents, the angelic-looking twins. Micah and Karin were five years old in the portrait. Karin looked exactly like Micah, more delicate perhaps. She had a serene smile and wicked eyes that seemed to taunt me.

“I suppose Karin and I had a difficult relationship. Half of the time we loved each other with an all-consuming love, half of the time we wanted each other dead. Even as kids, we would gleefully injure each other. I pushed her down the stairs countless times. She pushed me into the pool while I was having an asthma attack. But if an outsider tried to attack either of us, the other would fight tooth and claw in defense.”

Micah lapses into silence once again.

“It was better in middle school. She was sent to an all-girls boarding school, while I stayed here and was home-schooled. I would see her only during weekends, and during that time she was usually nice because we haven’t seen each other all week.” He pauses to take a sip of his tea. I had declined when he offered me a cup. “We were reunited in high school. She was immediately popular, while I was more or less an outcast. You think that having a popular sister would make me welcome everywhere.” He bites his lip, seemingly oblivious to the pain. It starts to bleed, and he licks the droplets of blood casually.

“We went to the same university after high school. Since we had chosen different courses, we rarely saw each other. I had my own little niche in university, and thing were looking up. I even fell in love, once.” He looks down at his hands, smiles faintly. “Her name was Oren. She was in one of my portraiture classes, and I immediately fell in love with her. She was so kind, so gentle – so different from my sister.”

I consult my notes. “Oren Quimbly. She died soon afterwards, falling down her dormitory’s stairwell.” I look at Micah for confirmation, and he nods.

“I loved her and she loved me – or so I believed. And then came the incident wherein all my delusions came to light. It was our second anniversary. I came home early because my professor didn’t show up, and I couldn’t find one of my books. I went into Karin’s room to check if it was there and that was when I saw them.”

“Who did you see?”

Micah’s hands clench into fists. “The first thing I saw was a flash of skin, limbs tangled together. My twin sister’s dark hair mingling with blonde. At first I was happy just because of the fact that she was with somebody. But then things started to click into place. I recognized the curve of the other girl’s back, the way her fingers raked their way down my sister’s arms. I recognized her voice as she gasped. It was my girlfriend with my twin sister, and at the moment I saw red.”

He closes his eyes.

I take shallow breaths to calm my racing heart. “Did you…did you perhaps kill Oren as well, Micah?”

Micah lifts one shoulder in a careless shrug. “What choice did I have?”

“That was the first time you killed.”

“What? No, no.” He looks genuinely entertained now. He leans back on his chair, staring at the family portrait again. “I had killed others before. Or, more accurately, Karin and I did. At first it was a little hobby of ours, something we did to bond together. Remember that lake house incident, where only Karin and Christian survived? Four boys, all dead. All because of the two of us.”

He paused, smiled a faraway smile. “They were bullying me, you see. I had to find a way to exact revenge. Karin was the one who came up with a plan. She was popular everywhere, and she was accepted into their group right away. The five of them, all alone in that house…it was easy for me to sneak in.”

He looks at me, an amused look on his face. “I had to dress myself in Karin’s clothes to set the plan in motion. I was a slender kid, from afar I looked exactly like her. She liked that – she always had a thing for guys in girl’s clothing. One of her little fetishes. She dressed me up so carefully, caressed my hair while whispering instructions in my ear. It was times like those when I liked her the best, when I could feel that we were actually close.”

“But then, you were committing murder.”

He shrugs. “Yes. But does it matter now?” He falls silent, staring into the dancing fire. “You know…when we were younger, she’d dress me up in her clothes. I used to resist, but she’d slap me hard and push me and threaten me with that innocent smile of hers until I obeyed.”

I set down my tablet and fold my hands together to stop them from shaking. “She sounds like an abusive sister. Did you ever tell your parents about this?”

He looks at me obliquely. “Hmm? No. Why should I? I liked it when she hurt me, we thought it was amusing. I guess we were both twisted in our own ways. She loved to inflict pain, I liked feeling it.”

“What was the last straw? When did you decide that she had to go?”

Micah glares at me, and I feel a shiver race down my spine. “I never wanted to kill her,” he says, his voice on edge. “Things changed when she got sick, you understand? She was weak. She wasn’t the person she used to be. Karin was so depressed about her illness that all she could talk about was dying.”

“My parents ate it up. Somehow, during the course of her illness, they forgot about what a little demon she had been and babied her. Sickening.” He swallows hard. “But…I felt like that, as well. Everything, forgiven. I didn’t want to lose her, you see. No matter how much I had hated her for ruining my relationship with Oren, for the abuse, she was still my twin sister.”

I sit up straighter, rolling my shoulder to ease its tension and wincing when it cracks. “So are you saying that this was assisted suicide, not murder?”

He nods again. “It has never been part of my plan to kill her. But she wanted die, and what else could I do? I didn’t want her to suffer. And, perhaps, some hidden part of me really did want her to disappear for good.”

I sigh. I could sense that the session was circling back, its ending imminent. “Why Christian, though? Did he do anything that made you decide to finish him off as well?”

Micah stands up, stretches his limbs. “Not really. I killed him because he was there, because it was convenient, and because I wanted to see what would happen.”

I rise as well, tucking my tablet back into my bag. My entire body is on edge, my fight-or-flight instincts screaming at me to go. “Do you realize that you can be incriminated by everything you have told me today, Micah? Why did you admit it? Why now?”

He looks at me, his eyes dead and careless. “I told you. I’m going to die soon, Doctor. I’m not going to make it out alive.” He pushes me to the wall and whips out a knife, flicking the blade open and pressing it casually on my neck. “I called you here because I am being haunted by something, and I want you to drive it away. But perhaps, you don’t need to. She has taken a fancy to you, and with any luck she might go when you do. After all, nobody else has been inside this house for five years.”

Micah relaxes his grip on me, his voice returning to normal. He smiles self-deprecatingly, then pockets the knife and ushers me to the door. “It was nice meeting you, Dr. Schafer.”

“Micah–“

Micah looks at me one last time. “And perharps, Dr. Schafer, death did follow in Karin’s wake. I was Death, and I was always a step behind her.” He turns away, giving me a brief impression of vulnerability. “It would would be a pleasure to see you again, but for your sake let’s hope that it does’t happen.”

I exit the house feeling chilled to the bone. I am understandably upset, since Micah’s gruesome tale has played a hand in that. I look back towards the house one last time and catch a glimpse of him standing by one of the gable windows, watching me. The girl from the living room was behind him once again, her dark eyes on me unblinkingly.

I raise my hand in farewell, and she smiles.

That was when I remember that Micah has said that nobody had been inside the house for more than five years.

But he has to be kidding…right?

I looked back to the window one last time. Micah was still there, but the girl has disappeared.

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