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The True Culprit

“Miss Merida Kincaid, please report immediately to reception with your certified nursing assistant. Your family is here to take you to your new residence.”

Merida was led downstairs by her CNA, an elderly woman with thinning blonde hair and standard dark blue scrubs. “I’m going home,” Merida said, not to anyone in particular. It was almost as if she were trying to convince herself. She never thought this day would come.

“Sure you are, sweetie. For now.” The nurse looked her up and down, then snickered. “But I’m sure I’m going to see you again, soon.”

Merida didn’t respond, mostly because the nurse’s words didn’t register in her mind. Everything simply became ‘background noise’ in her ears.

As she approached the reception, her stomach dropped. She saw her father holding hands with the one person whom she hoped to never see again.

“Merida!” Her father exclaimed, running up to her and throwing his hands around her. She missed her father, truly. She was overjoyed that she could see him again, but seeing that witch standing next to him spoiled the moment. Merida stood there, stiff as a statue, as her father embraced her. “What’s she doing here?” She asked sharply.

“Brook is your mother now, Merida. Please show her some respect.”

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Merida felt like screaming. She glared at the woman. She was a tall vixen with the perfect hourglass-shaped body, sporting a super tight dress that caused a lot of attention to go towards her chest. Her long, polished blonde curls, heavy makeup and perfect red manicure indicated that she was nothing more than a high maintenance trophy wife. But Merida knew she was much more than that.

The witch walked up to her, a glint in her snake eyes. “Nice to see you again, Merida,” she said. The sardonic tone in her voice was practically tangible.

“Brook.” Merida continued to glare at her, and said nothing more. She was flabbergasted at the prospect of her father marrying this woman, but knew better than to start an argument inside the very institution that she was trapped in all this time.

Everyone appeared extremely uncomfortable, including the receptionist. Her father cleared his throat and awkwardly began walking towards the door. Merida followed at his coat tails, avoiding Brook completely. Once she climbed into the car, the scent of the leather back seat instantly sent her into a flurry of memories.

“Look, Frank! Isn’t this car wonderful?” Her mother exclaimed. She pointed at the car, practically jumping from excitement. “It’s small, but still can fit a family of four. It’s perfect for me, don’t you think? I can still take Merida and Grace around to school and their club activities, but still have the portability of a small car.”

Her father scratched his head. “I don’t know, Clarice. You just started looking for a car, this is only the second one we’ve seen so far. Are you sure this is the one you want?”

“This is the one I want.” Clarice was adamant. That’s how she always was, an extremely stubborn and impulsive person. She would almost always come to regret her decisions when it was too late.

Not this decision, though. The car was paid off, and Clarice was ecstatic. She drove the car everywhere, even when it would have been more convenient to walk, just because she loved the car. It became her third child. Every day in the afternoon, she would vacuum out the car and polish the leather seats. The car always was sparkling clean, and smelled like fresh lemon.

Until now.

The car floor was dusty and littered with gum wrappers, receipts and other miscellaneous trash. Though the leather smell was still overpowering, it was not able to mask the horrible stench of cigarette smoke that filled the car. Merida felt like she couldn’t breathe; the musky smoke smell was entering her pores.

“This is mom’s car. Why are you using it?”

“Merida,” her father said slowly as he climbed into the passenger seat, “This is Brook’s car now. Your mother – I mean, Clarice – is no longer here, so there’s no point of letting the car just sit there, is there? And like I said before, Brook is your mother now. Understand?”

Brook climbed into the driver’s seat, planting her shiny black heels on the petals. Merida looked at Brook’s face through the rear-view mirror, and caught Brook glaring at her menacingly. She felt sick.

“What a load of bull. You two got married? Right after mom died?”

“Hey, watch your language. Brook is a wonderful woman. She took care of Clarice for a very long time, remember? She was her nurse.”

Merida remembered, almost too clearly. She wished she could have forgotten.

She remembered her poor mother, suddenly wheelchair-bound and sick beyond belief, yelling for help as she struggled through the pain. Her ‘nurse’ would always be conveniently somewhere else, and would rarely assist her. She also remembered the ‘nurse’ having an affair with her father, right under her mother’s nose, which carried on for several months. And worst of all, she remembered her ‘nurse’ killing off her mother so that she could have her father all to herself. Yet somehow, she got away with it. No matter who Merida told, no one believed her.

But Merida remembered.

It was an unbearably hot day, one of those days where raw eggs would easily become fried if laid outside on the patio for a few minutes. Clarice would spend a lot of time in the shed just outside of their mansion, on their humongous property. She claimed that the mansion was too big for her, and that the shed was more compact and cozy. She had transformed the shed into a homely personal living space for herself. Brook had taken advantage of this by getting even more comfortable with Frank while Clarice was out of the mansion, but Brook must have eventually gotten fed up with Clarice entirely, because it all ended that day.

The day that Clarice was killed. Merida remembered. There was no way she could forget, and there was no way she was imagining things.

She was playing outside on the field with her pet rabbit. It was her twelfth rabbit. For some reason, all of the rabbits her father got for her got injured and died very quickly. She suspected it was Brook’s doing.

That day, she looked up and saw Brook angrily crossing the large, barren field that separated her mother’s shed from the mansion, all while carrying a large Jerry can and matchbox in her perfectly manicured hands. She was wearing a blue dress, with ruffles, that had a large red heart printed on the bosom. She walked up to the shed and –

“Merida, we’re home,” her father’s voice ripped her out of her journey through time. He turned around and looked at her anxiously. “Why don’t you go upstairs? Your mother and I will bring up your things.”

Merida scoffed when Frank had called Brook, yet again, her ‘mother’. She knew why they wanted to be in the car alone. She could only imagine the things they would be talking about behind her back.

“So, do you think it’s safe for her to live with us again? She’s still acting weird.”
“Maybe we should just send her back to that place. Let them deal with her.”

Merida threw open the front door. The mansion looked almost the same, apart from the walls being painted burgundy and large photo frames of the newlyweds at every corner. Burgundy was Brook’s favorite color. Merida hated that color. It reminded her of coagulated blood.

As Merida trotted up the large, fancy winding staircase, she was suddenly filled with elation. Her sister! Her beloved sister, Grace, the only person who she loved and trusted wholeheartedly after everything had happened, was waiting upstairs for her. Merida rushed upstairs and threw Grace’s bedroom door open with a bang. “Grace!” She cried excitedly.

Grace wasn’t there.

The room was extremely dusty. It was almost as if everything had been left exactly as it was when Merida had left. But somehow, seeing her sister’s room made Merida grin. Everything was exactly how she imagined her older sister to be. Her dresser was lined with makeup that was never touched, and lots of different hair brushes. On her desk rested her laptop which was covered with stickers of memorable sport championship matches. In the corner of the room was a rack filled with old baseball bats, soccer balls and other sport materials. The white walls were littered with pictures of athletes. And of course, a complimentary poster of a shirtless Channing Tatum on the wall.

And one more significant memorabilia – a large, computer printed photo plastered smack in the center of her closet door, a picture of their family. Mom, dad, Grace and Merida – just them. Back when mom was still healthy, back when Brook was not a part of their lives. They were all smiling, laughing – they were truly happy.

Where did it all go wrong?


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“The answer, of course, is when Brook came along,” someone answered. Merida turned to see a slightly older teen, with loose blonde hair like Clarice’s, dressed in an oversized black hoodie and tight ripped whitewashed jeans. She couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear.

“Grace, you tub of lard! I missed you so much.” Merida threw my arms around her. “Where the hell did you even come from? I didn’t even see you in the room.” She spoke through my tears of joy and laughter. Grace began to laugh too, and her laughter began to fill the room, ringing throughout the house like a church bell. Her voice and presence seemed to paint color and life into the room. Merida remembered how much she loved Grace’s laugh.

“You wanted to see me, so I came.” She grinned. “Hey, you’ve gotten way taller too!”

“And you, on the other hand, have not aged a single day since I’ve left. I could’ve sworn you even had the same hairstyle and outfit on the day I left, too. But hey, it might be my craziness talking.” That’s why they locked me up in that place, Merida thought. Instantly, memories began flooding into her mind again.

Merida was nothing but a little girl, standing behind her mother like her shadow. Her sister, Grace, was different. She was an outspoken, confident, and honest girl, extremely brave and tomboyish. Merida, on the other hand, copied everything her mother did – mainly because she feared being lost in the world. She stuck to her mother like glue. Whenever the kids at school bullied her, Grace would stick up for her and fend them off. Whenever Brook would yell at her for some reason or another at home, Grace would tell her off, and end up getting in trouble for it. But in the end, Grace protected Merida all the time. Merida distinctly remembered the day that she got in trouble for her seventh pet bunny dying; Brook called Merida a “sadistic little bitch” for no particular reason, and Grace defended her. Though, oddly enough, Grace seemed uneasy about the whole situation herself.

A chilling gust of wind hit Merida in the face, waking her from her past daydreams. She blinked when she saw that Grace’s smile and cheerful countenance suddenly vanished. She looked at Merida, solemn and grim. “You’re not crazy. Brook’s the crazy one. She’s the one who should’ve been locked up.”

“You think so, too?” Merida was slightly taken aback at the sudden change of conversation.

Grace looked around cautiously, and whispered to her: “I know so. Besides, you saw her that day, right? She’s the one who killed mom. You know that, Merida. You know it better than I do. It’s all her fault. Do you remember it?”

Merida remembered, clear as day.

Brook stomped up to the shed, and began emptying the contents of the Jerry can around the property. She grinned like a maniac as she lit a match and tossed the small flame at the gasoline-soaked shed.

Merida remembered hearing someone screaming in utter agony. A heart-wrenching cry. She could do nothing but watch as Brook wiped her hands off on her blue ruffled dress, now soaked with gasoline stains, and walked back casually to the mansion.

She ran as fast as she could, back up to the mansion, up the fancy winding staircase and into her father’s study. She cried out to her father about what Brook had done. He simply looked at her like she was the crazy maniac. He looked outside and began to scream, and immediately called the police and fire department.

When the police arrived, Brook was nowhere to be found. The police officers were taking notes, and one of them took Frank aside and began to have a heated altercation with him. All the while, both Frank and the officers stole concerned glances at Merida. Frank and the police officer walked up to her.

“Miss Kincaid. We would like to authorize this decision with the attorney’s office first, but for now, both your father and I think that the best course of action is to send you to a mental rehabilitation facility for an unspecified period of time.”

Merida didn’t understand half of what the police officer was saying. All she could tell, from the tone of the officer’s voice and the look on her father’s ashamed face, was that she was in trouble for Brook’s crime. They thought that she had done it. She wanted to cry.

“Grace.” Merida snapped back to reality. She was sitting on Grace’s bed, and Graces was soothingly stroking her hair. It was odd.

“What is it?” Grace asked softly, as if she was still lost in her trance.

“You weren’t there. How did you know?”

Grace looked at her, puzzled. “You mean, how do I know that Brook did it? Because Brook is the monster, not you. What other reason is there?”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Merida looked at her mismatched socks. For some reason, her face felt hot.

Grace leaned in again, and began whispering in her ear. But this time, all the softness in her voice was lost, leaving an aggressive, cynical undertone. “It should have been Brook and dad that died, not mom.”

Merida’s eyes widened. It was an odd feeling. This exact statement was what she had been repeating to herself ever since the incident. It was almost as if Grace was speaking out her internal thoughts.

“Oh gosh, sorry for suddenly making the topic all dreary the day you come back! Just forget about those two and enjoy yourself, okay? Anyways, I hate to be a spoil-sport, but I have to get going. I have soccer practice. I’ll see you later tonight.” Grace pulled away from her, her natural cheerful composure instantly restored.

“Now? But it’s 11PM.” Merida was genuinely confused.

“We have a competition coming up soon, so we need to practice more often.” Grace stuffed her soccer ball, cleats, and uniform in her large duffel bag. The uniform had her team name printed on the front: ‘Ruby Rhinos’. She had been on the same team since she was six years old. The uniform looked crusty and ashen, for some reason. Almost as if they had been burnt.

Merida and Grace exited her room together, and Grace gave her a quick hug before darting down the stairs and out of the back door. It seemed odd; the air suddenly became warmer after exiting Grace’s room. The windows in her room were closed, and it was the dead of summer, yet Merida distinctly remembered feeling a chilling gust of wind. She brushed it off, not thinking much of it.

Merida sauntered to the door of her own room, and flung it open. To her surprise, it was sparkling clean, and plain. The floral wallpaper she had before was stripped off of the walls and replaced with the same coagulated blood color. All of her posters, photos, and other miscellaneous media she had hanging around the room were removed; the walls were bare. Her desk was completely empty. Her closet contained only a few summer outfits that were not much to her liking. It was most likely Brook that had picked them out. All of her jewelry and accessories were gone.

Then Merida remembered. She had a feeling that her room would be raided and filtered once she went to the institution, so the day before she left, she hid the dress she was wearing. It was her favorite dress that Clarice had given her for her birthday. But Merida couldn’t remember where she hid it.

It might have been in Clarice’s temporary room she had been confined to initially when she had just become sick. After Clarice started living in the shed, the room had been transformed into Brook’s ‘nursing station’, but Merida knew that Brook had just made a nice living space for herself.

It was late in the afternoon; Frank and Brook were still apparently in the car, talking. Merida snuck across the hallway, and creaked the door open to Brook’s room. It was as she expected. Brook was probably sleeping in the master bedroom with Frank now that they were married, so she had turned the room into a luxury beauty parlor. Merida felt disgusted, a deep pit forming in her stomach.

She snooped cautiously around the room. If Brook had gone through this room, she might have found her dress. But Merida had hidden it very carefully that day. Perhaps she had shoved it inside the vent near the corner of the room. She approached the vent and peered inside.


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“And just what do you think you’re doing?” A voice sneered behind her.

It was none other than Brook, with her hands planted on her wide hips. She glared in the most menacing way.

“Nothing.” Merida shrugged and walked right past Brook, out of the room. To her dismay, she felt Brook turning around and following her, all the way to Merida’s room. When Merida got to her door, she turned around and snapped, “Why are you following me?”

“Just making sure that you go to sleep. It’s past your bedtime. Your father is going to bring up your luggage in the morning, he is very tired and is going to bed.” A sinister smile began to creep along Brook’s face.

No wonder her father had not come up to talk to her in private. This witch is trying to keep dad from spending time with me, Merida thought. She probably told father that she would tuck me in and that he should not bother.

“Goodnight,” Merida said. She tried to slam the door on Brook’s face, but Brook didn’t let her. She pushed back on the door. “Not so fast,” Brook said. “First change into your pajamas and get into bed.”

“I’m not going to change in front of you!”

“Why not? I’m your mother, and I’ll be taking care of you now.”

Merida was fuming. She felt overcome with emotions she could not even name. She wanted to kill Brook, right there and then.

She slowly opened her closet door, and dropped her clothes. Brook was smiling viciously the whole time as she pulled her pajamas over herself.

Once she climbed into bed, Brook left for a moment. Merida sighed with relief, thinking that she was finally able to be alone with the night. But Brook came back within a few minutes, holding a glass of water and a few colored pills in her hands.

“What is that?” Merida asked, frustrated.

“It’s your medicine. I’ll need you to take it before you go to bed.” Brook towered over her with the pills and glass. A bead of the water dribbled down the side of the glass and fell on her bedspread. Merida could swear it made a sizzle noise as it soaked into the sheets.

“I’m not just going to take any random pills you give me. For all I know, you might be trying to kill me. I wouldn’t be surprised. Get out.” Merida tried to turn around so her back was facing the door, but before she could, she felt two heavy arms restricting her movement. Brook was on top of her, straddling her. Merida felt as if she couldn’t breathe. She’s going to kill me, she thought. She’s trying to kill me, just like how she killed mom.

Merida began to scream as loud as she could. “She’s trying to kill me! Dad, save me!”

Brook grew angry. “Fine, if you want to be that way, I’ll administer your treatment intravenously,” she growled. She grabbed an injection needle and a sterilization pad, and while still straddling Merida, injected a clear fluid into her upper arm. Merida’s crying and yelling subsided, and she grew extremely sleepy. Her vision began to fade. The last thing she saw was Brook getting up from the mattress and smiling down at her triumphantly, saying “Sweet dreams”.

Surprisingly, she wasn’t dead the next morning.

Instead, Merida woke up to Frank, who was sitting at the side of her bed, stroking her hair. “Merida, you’re finally awake,” he said happily. Merida could instantly tell that he was feigning cheerfulness, most likely because he was about to tell her some troubling news.

“I’m going on a…very short business trip. Nothing for you to be worried about. I know you just got back, and I wanted to spend the day with you, but it just came up. I’ll probably be back really late tonight, and you’ll be sleeping, so I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I promise. Be nice to your mom while I’m gone, okay?”

Merida’s stomach sank down to her feet. She would have to spend a whole day with Brook. Alone.

Wait, not alone. Grace was there.

“Grace is home, right?”

Her father looked at her, baffled. He was about to say something when Brook entered the room.

“Time for your medicine,” she said.

Merida turned nervously towards her father, who smiled and said, “it’s just some basic medicine sweetie. Nothing to be worried about. It just helps you stay focused and keeps you from feeling anxious or scared.”

She begrudgingly took the medicine. It tasted metallic and nasty, and as it went down, she felt her stomach sink even further. She hated seeing Brook win.

“Anyways, it’s about time I left.” Frank placed a kiss on Merida’s forehead, and another on Brook’s lips. “I’ll see you first thing tomorrow morning, girls. Don’t get too crazy without me, you hear? Take care of your mother, Merida.”

“I’m sure she will.” Brook gave him a sweet, innocent smile. “You should go, sweetheart. You’re getting late.”

And thus, Frank had left. The true nightmare had just begun. Merida would be home alone for the whole day with the person who killed her mother.

And the person who was going to kill her.

“Is Grace home?” Merida asked gruffly.

“What the hell are you talking about have you lost your mind?” Brook snapped. “Oh wait, I guess you have.”

“Uh, what? I was just asking a simple question.”

“Just get out of bed and come downstairs. Don’t play games with me.” Brook turned and left. Merida was shocked. Obviously, Brook was the crazy one.

Merida waited until she heard the floorboards downstairs creaking, indicating that Brook was a safe distance away. Then, she tiptoed to Grace’s room and knocked.

Nothing.

She opened the door and found that Grace wasn’t there. Her bed was exactly as it was yesterday, and everything was placed exactly as it was. Had she not come home?

“Merida, I’m here. In your room.” Merida heard Grace say down the hall.

Merida was spooked beyond belief. She turned around and rushed to her room, finding Grace sitting casually on the side of her bed. She was wearing the same thing as yesterday, the same oversized black hoodie and ripped jeans. Even her loose blonde ponytail looked the exact same.

“Grace! How did you even get in my room? Where did you come from? I didn’t even see you!”

Grace laughed. “You ask way too many questions. Why does it matter where I was, anyway? You wanted to see me, so I came.”

Merida felt as if she had heard Grace say that before, but she wasn’t sure.

“Anyways, I’m so glad you’re home. I was retching the idea of being with Brook alone.” Merida sighed, sitting on the bed next to Grace. “How did you deal with Brook all this time, anyways? It was probably hell. I almost want to go back, just so that I don’t see her anymore.”

Grace shrugged, but didn’t say anything. For a while, there was silence. Then Grace said, “You know, when mom died, I died too.”

“I know what you mean,” Merida sighed. “I feel the exact same way, it was like a piece of me was in mom, and that part died when she left us.”

Grace looked uncomfortable. “You can’t let that woman live, Merida,” Grace said. “She has to pay for what she did. You should make her pay for it. Are you afraid of her?”

“No way!” Merida cried, but she knew that was a lie. “I’m not afraid of her. She can’t do anything to me. I mean, not with dad around. And for now…well, I’ll just avoid her, like you.” She was still shaken at what Grace was saying. Was she suggesting to kill Brook, or was she just exaggerating again?

“I’ll protect you,” Grace murmured. Again, her face grew serious. She turned to Merida and grabbed her shoulder. “I need you to listen carefully,” she said. “You can’t take the medicine that Brook gives you. At first, just take it to earn her trust. When she stops monitoring you, throw the medicine away when she’s not looking. Okay? If you continue to take the medicine, your brain will turn to mush, and you won’t be able to see me anymore. You’ll become a living vegetable.”

“Grace, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Merida, I thought I told you to come downstairs! Are you deaf?” Brook screamed from the lower level of the mansion.

“I have to go. I’ll see you later. Remember what I said,” Grace said anxiously. Instantly, she left the room. Merida heard the click noise down the hall; Grace had presumably locked herself in her room. She was still in shock from what Grace was saying. How did she even know about the medicine?

Merida trampled downstairs and expected Brook to be cooking. Instead, Brook was simply sitting there as a few cooks brought the food to the table. There was an exorbitant amount of food; there were scrambled, fried, and poached eggs, omelets, pancakes, latkes, sausage, and several other items Merida didn’t even know the names of.


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“Come and eat,” Brook said. She was smoking a cigarette and wafting the smoke away.

Merida took two plates, and loaded a large amount of food on each, she began to leave the table, when Brook screamed, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to eat upstairs.”

“There will be NO eating upstairs. Eat at the dinner table only.”

Merida got angry. “This is my house, not yours. You may have stolen it from me, but my dad and mom bought it together. Don’t tell me what to do.” Merida winced, expecting more yelling or perhaps even physical abuse.

But Brook simply sighed in frustration. “Is it impossible for us to just get along, Merida? Can’t you just listen to me for once?”

Merida was taken aback. This wasn’t the reaction she was expecting. She almost felt bad for Brook, but brushed off the feeling. She turned and trudged upstairs; Brook’s impatient sighs continued to echo through the long hallways.

“Grace, I got you some food,” Merida said, softly knocking on her door. She wasn’t surprised that Grace didn’t want to eat downstairs with Brook, since Grace mentioned that she avoided her at all times. She waited a bit, but there was no response. She knocked a bit more firmly, still with no response. She gripped the door handle with the intention of rattling it to call Grace’s attention, but to her surprise, it swung open. She could’ve swore she heard Grace lock the door.

Grace wasn’t there.

Maybe she left the house while I was arguing with Brook, Merida thought. But she was still perplexed. It wasn’t like Grace to be constantly acting on her own, being so aloof and leaving the house whenever she wanted to. Maybe staying with Brook had made her this way.

The day moved along, slowly but surely. Merida stayed in her room, reading. It was something she had enjoyed doing. She had a large collection of books that were tucked away in her closet. Thankfully, no one had touched them.

Initially, Brook came into the room, holding the ominous pills in her hand that she called ‘medicine’ and a glass of water covered in condensation. Merida would warily yet submissively take the medicine in front of her, without any complaint. This happened a couple of times. Then, just as Grace said, Brook let down her guard and would leave the medicine and glass in Merida’s room for her to take. Merida gulped when she saw the colorful pills sitting on her vanity. She took them into her hand. The outer layers of the pills began to melt from the warmth of her skin. I trust Grace, she thought, as she walked over to the upstairs bathroom, closed the door, and flushed them down the toilet. She grew more carefree about disposing of the medicine as time passed.

Eventually, she suddenly felt a yearning, a strong desire, to wear her old dress. The dress that she so adored, which her mother had given her. She slowly snuck out of her room, peering downstairs. Brook was taking a nap on the gargantuan couch in the well-adorned living room, and the television was blaring.

She carefully tip-toed into Brook’s beauty parlor, nearly suffocated by the strong perfumed floral scent that filled the air like a noxious gas. She went into the closet, and pried of the vent as quietly as possible.

There it was. As beautiful as ever.

It was a beautiful form-fitting dress, the same one she had worn all the time when Clarice was alive. She loved that dress; it was her mother’s last gift to her. She was tired of looking at the hideous flare jeans and plain scoop neck t-shirts stuffed in her closet.

Carefully, she replaced the vent and stripped herself of the ugly clothing, slipping into the dress. It felt perfect, like it was meant to be. It smelled of her mother. Instantly, she was filled with a strong desire to visit the shed.

Merida wasn’t sure if the shed was even there anymore, and she was almost positive that it had been searched and cleaned entirely. Any remnants of her mother’s existence left behind in the shed were likely expunged. This tugged at Merida’s heart.

“Merida…” A soft, sweet whisper came down the hall. Merida suddenly felt the blood drain from her face. It wasn’t Brook’s voice, and it could not have been Grace’s voice. In fact, it felt familiar but not recent. It sounded like Clarice’s voice, when she was healthy. But it couldn’t have been her.

“Merida, I want to see you…” The dulcet voice faintly floated in the air. A cold gust of wind flew through the house, despite none of the windows being open. Though nervous, Merida followed the voice.

She followed the mellifluous whispers down the large winding staircase and to the gated front door. Before leaving, she peered at Brook, who was still soundly sleeping on the couch. She sighed with relief and carefully stepped outside, without any shoes.

“Merida…” The sweet voice drifted through the large meadow of the property. Merida stepped onto the grass with her bare feet, and was suddenly washed with a wave of happiness. It felt like an eternity since she was able to be in fresh air like this, just like how she used to play on the meadow with her pet bunnies. This was the one area of the property that remained the same. The atmosphere, the lovely smell and the visual beauty were all too reminiscent. She was no longer scared, but instead was cheerfully following the voice.

However, Merida’s whimsical composure instantly crumbled when she realized that she was being led straight to the shed. There was no doubt about it, the voice was coming from inside. It had grown louder, and more commanding.

“Merida, I want to see you,” the voice said. The soothing tone was gone. The words hung awkwardly in the sweet summer air, and came crashing down on Merida’s shoulders like a ton of bricks.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, she thought. The shed had been repainted, in the same old burgundy/coagulated blood color that Merida dreaded. The wooden boards looked brand new. A fresh lemony wood scent lingered in the air near the entryway. Merida gulped, and slowly reached for the handle – the door was bolted shut with a humongous master lock.

“Break the door open,” the voice became harsh and aggressive, ringing in Merida’s ears. “BREAK THE DOOR OPEN.” She felt as if her body was on auto-pilot. She grabbed one of the large decorative rocks piled on the sides of the shed and began to smash on the deadbolt. It was no use; the door wouldn’t open.

She sighed in resignation, and was starting to leave when she heard the familiar clinking of metal. She instantly turned around to find that the deadbolt had been completely warped and bent, almost as if it had been burnt with a torch or lit on fire. It was hanging loosely on the door. Merida felt a wave of fear wash over her. Someone, or something, was in or near the shed. Something that wanted to see her. She slowly laced her fingers around the door handle and pried it open.

The door made a large creaking noise as it swung open, and Merida was suffocated with a strong musty odor. She could hardly see; the inside was so full of dust and cobwebs, strongly reflecting the thin streams of evening moonlight streaming through the wooden panels of the shed.

The shed was oddly just as it was when Clarice was alive. Merida could barely make it out, but there was no doubt about it – everything had remained the same. There was a brown suede love seat and futon set next to a small fireplace, and a large old-style red velvet rug with golden tassels that covered the span of the floor. The walls were covered in loosely hanging photos of their family – everyone but Brook. All of the furniture only looked slightly burnt and ashen at the crevices, and the walls had not been so much as touched by the flames. How was this possible?

A strong, vinegar like smell was coming from the fireplace. Merida approached it and pulled off the large grate. She cried, dropping the grate and falling backwards on her behind. There were several large glass jars filled with some sort of chemical, and within them were…rabbits. Several of them, at least 12 total. Mutilated, dismembered, with their guts and limbs floating around in the liquid substance. Merida quickly shut the fireplace with the grate.

And then, in the corner of her eye, she saw something. It was like a fleeting black shadow. There was a small outhouse conjoined to the shed, which was accessible through the inside. The outhouse only locked from the outside, for whatever reason – most likely because it was poorly built. The shadow seemed to dart in that general direction. Merida slowly walked over to the outhouse and swung it open, gasping at the rancid odor that came from within.

It wasn’t feces or urine that had caused that smell; it was the unmistakable stench of rotting flesh. She plugged her nose shut and carefully stepped inside. The toilet seat covering the pit was old and rusted, and the wooden panels making up the walls were covered with large, deep scratches. Hundreds of them. Dried blood caked the walls in burgundy splotches. It was as if a feral animal was let loose in there.

The outhouse door suddenly slammed shut, followed by a familiar click sound. Merida yelped, turning around and rattling the door handle. There was no use. She began to bang on the door, crying, “Help me, please! I’m trapped, open the door!”

A cold, sticky hand firmly gripped her shoulder from behind. Merida felt all of the warmth leave her body; she was frozen. She could no longer even let out a whimper, or dare to turn around. She was able to see the hand out of her peripheral vision – it looked like a human’s, but it was covered in a thick black tar-like substance, and chunks of the skin and tissue were missing. The nails were long and claw-like, almost 6 inches long – and completely ashen black. She couldn’t breathe. With all the strength she could muster, she kicked at the door, right at the hinges. The door cracked through the center, and she barreled out, running as fast as she could. Once she reached the front door of the shed, she grasped and pulled at the handle – to her dismay, that was locked as well; the deadbolt was refastened from the outside.

“No!” She cried, backing up against the door. Whatever was in the outhouse was coming out – its long, frail structure casted a lingering shadow along the walls. And then, like a flash, the figure was towering above her. It was a human, for sure – perhaps an older woman, covered in the same black tar substance, patches of hair, skin and muscle missing, her eyes pitch black with no discernible pupils or iris. Her central organs had been completely exposed and ripped out; her stomach muscle and intestines were loosely dangling from her body. She was covered in patches of dried blood and ash. She flashed a creepy smile – there was not a single tooth remaining in her mouth, just decrepit gums.

Merida couldn’t control herself; she leaned forward and puked on the floor. The vomit soaked into the wooden floors and formed a puddle that engulfed the creature’s tar-covered feet. The creature didn’t seem to notice.

“Merida, I wanted to see you,” the creature said. The voice was thick and raspy, almost as if the creature’s vocal chords had been fried. It reached forward with a delicate hand, stroking Merida’s hair, leaving a streak of black grime. Merida barely noticed a small birthmark on the creature’s ring finger. She screamed as loud as she could, and began banging on the door once more. “HELP ME!”

The creature began to frown, and tears of blood began to pool along its eyes. “You don’t want to see me?” Merida could feel the creature’s hand drift along her check, and suddenly, the sharp claws began to sink into her skin. She felt her blood began to drip out in a thin stream and run along her chin. “H-h-help!” She wailed, mucus running from her nose.

The creature’s face contorted into something that vaguely represented anger, a face that struck fear straight into Merida’s heart. It growled, and blood began to pour out of its eye sockets. “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?!” she reached with her clawed hand and grabbed at Merida’s collar, flinging her across the room. She felt her back slap against the rough wall. Her vision began to fade.

Suddenly, purplish grey moonlight began to pour into the shed. Grace stood at the entrance. She was vibrant, reverberating a beautiful angelic light. “That’s enough,” she said calmly. She walked towards Merida and gently lifted her into her arms. Together, they left the barn. Merida didn’t remember what happened after that.

When she woke up, it was night-time. She was in her bed, her arms and head wrapped in thick gauze bandages. Brook was sitting next to her, reading and smoking another cigarette. When she noticed that Merida had awoken, she put her book down and set the cigarette in an ashtray she brought along with her. She was fuming.

“And where the HELL did you go, you little brat? Where on earth did you get those wounds? Huh?”

“What?” Merida was still dazed, not able to process what had transpired. She felt as it was all some terrible nightmare. Weakly, she mumbled, “Mom had a birthmark on her right finger…she hated it, and would always cover it up with her wedding ring…”

“What the hell are you babbling on about, you idiot? Can you hear me? I gave you medicine, and you didn’t take it, did you? Where did you throw it? And where did you get that dress?”

Merida’s vision and hearing were a blur. Nothing was comprehensible. Suddenly, Grace’s voice rang in her head, loud and clear. “Get away from her, she’s trying to kill you.”

“What?” Merida said aloud. She looked around the room, but Grace wasn’t there. She could only hear her voice. If you take the medicine, you won’t be able to see me anymore.

It was then that Merida realized what she had to do.

“You drugged me again, didn’t you?” She spat.

“I gave you medicine, yes. I had no choice. I didn’t know you were throwing the pills away and being the little brat that you are.”

“You’re trying to kill me,” Merida said. “I don’t want to be here with you.” She began to get up from the bed.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” Brook stood in front of her, not letting her get out of bed. “You try to leave again, and I’ll burn you with my cigarette.”
“I need to get out. You’re going to kill me.” Merida was still slightly out of it. She tried to move again, but this time, Brook pushed her back down onto the mattress with full force. Merida cried as her head hit the headboard. Her vision blurred again. She could still vaguely hear Grace’s warnings ringing in her ears, but it was fading.


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Grace was right, she’s trying to kill me! She shifted in bed, trying to get up again, but it was no use. She saw Brook rummaging for something in a large, portable nursing cart she had brought in the room. She pulled out what looked like several belts and other unusual restraining devices. She set a large belt down by the foot of the bed, and continued to rummage through the cart. Now was Merida’s chance.

Her fingers wrapped around the cold metal part of the belt. As soon as Brook turned around, she swung as hard as she could and knocked her on the back of the head. Brook slowly collapsed to the floor.

“Oh, crap!” Merida cried. Was she dead? She got up immediately, her daze gone. She leaned down and saw that Brook was slowly getting up. Brooks eyes were filled with malice, and her mascara was smeared. “That’s enough, you sack of shit,” she growled. As she got on her feet, Merida saw that she was holding a large Swiss Army knife.

Merida lost it.

She darted for the door, as fast as she could. She felt Brook at her tails, and immediately slammed the door on her face. The door shook violently as Brook pushed back on it.

“Open the door, Merida,” Brook said, while laughing maniacally.

“No!” Merida cried, tears streaming down her face. But she was losing control, and was too weak. The general medicine had just about worn off, but she still felt half asleep from the narcotics Brook had likely injected her with. Eventually, the door burst open, and Merida fell backward. Brook towered over her.

This was the end.

She closed her eyes. She heard a high-pitched scream, and assumed it was her own. Brook was probably in the process of stabbing her. Though, oddly enough, she didn’t feel any pain. Then she heard a large thud as a body collapsed to the floor, and felt some sort of warm liquid hit her face.

What was happening?

“Merida, I’m here. Don’t worry. I told you I would protect you.” It was a familiar, calming voice. Grace. Grace! Merida opened her eyes, and began to cry when she saw Grace, dressed exactly how she always was. Now, however, her clothes were stained with blood, and her hands, as well as the large butcher knife she was holding, were drenched in it. Brook’s lifeless body was strewn across the floor; she had a gaping stab wound in her chest, and a large, ever-expanding bloodstain spreading along the fabric of her blouse. She was still smiling.

“G-g-Grace,” Merida sputtered, “I-I-I was s-so scared. Sh-she was trying to k-k-kill me.” She began to cry once more as she looked at Brook’s dead body and the large puddle of blood forming around her.
Grace knelt down and threw her arms around Merida. She said nothing else. For only a moment, Merida felt safe, as if she world was protecting her. As soon as Grace spoke again, the calming reverie Merida had envisioned crumbled, and she was brought back to the reality of the situation.
“As much as I’d like to ignore this problem, we have to get rid of the body, Merida,” Brook said hoarsely. “This knife was just the first one I grabbed from the kitchen, and we have so many, so I don’t think Dad will notice if it’s missing. We have to throw everything away.”

Merida nodded. It was only self-defense. It was not a crime. It was only…self-defense.

Grace held Brook’s head, while Merida held her legs. They roughly carried her down the stairs and out the back of the house, right outside the gate. Merida opened the lid of the industrial-sized disposal bin they kept outside, and helped Grace lift the body into the bin. Grace was just about to dump the knife into the bin when they heard the roaring engine of a car approaching the driveway. Merida had forgotten how late it was; the sky was pitch black.

It’s dad, Merida thought. It was going to be okay. She would calmly explain to him about what had happened, and he would have to believe her. This time, she wasn’t alone – Grace was with her. He would see Brook for the true monster that she was. She looked up at Grace, who was standing next to her. Grace smiled reassuringly.

The car swerved onto the pavement, and the illuminating lights turned off. Frank stepped out of the car, looking puzzled. “Merida? Why are you still up? Where’s your mother?” He suddenly grew sullen. “Oh my god, where did you get that dress? Why is it covered in blood…what did you do?!” As he approached her, he was barely able to make it out in the darkness– in the garbage bin, Brook’s bloodied, lifeless body.

Merida gulped, and told him everything at once. How Brook was torturing her, how she was force-feeding her narcotics, how she tried to restrain and kill her. “Grace was the one who saved me,” she cried. “Brook was going to kill me, Grace protected me. It was only self-defense. Please believe us.”

Frank was staring at her in total shock, then slowly pulled out his phone. Merida stood there, watching Frank curiously.

“Hello, police? I’ll need you to dispatch some officers here immediately. This is regarding my daughter, Merida Kincaid.” There was a short pause. “Yes, well…it seems we judged her cured state of mind too quickly, and well…my guess is she hasn’t stabilized mentally, and hasn’t been taking her medication as instructed. She stabbed my late wife.” Another long pause, as Merida stood there incredulously. Why did he not believe her? “Yes sir, it appears to be a fatal wound. I believe she’s dead.” His voice cracked. He was obviously trying to feign toughness and fight back tears.

Merida began to cry again. Once again, her father didn’t believe her. Even when Grace was standing right next to her.

“Okay sir, thank you. We will be waiting.” He turned off his phone and slid it back into his pocket. He looked back up at Merida cautiously, yet pitifully. His eyes were swollen, as if he were right about to cry. “Merida, I’m sorry,” he said. “It was my fault. I didn’t realize how badly you needed help. I shouldn’t have brought you back home.”

Merida simply stared at him, her eyes gushing tears like waterfalls. “I told you,” she whispered through sniffles. “Grace was only protecting me. I told you.”

Frank sighed deeply, running his hands through his hair. “I don’t think there is any point in explaining this to you, since you won’t believe me or understand the situation. Merida, Grace is dead. She died 2 years ago, the same day your mother died, for god’s sake. And Brook- well, Brook was one of the nicest people to exist, even your mother loved her. She only agreed to marry me after I begged for it, and she loved you like her own daughter. She was always complaining about how you didn’t deserve to be locked up in that place, and that she wanted to bring you home, that she would be your nurse and take care of you. Even the shed- it burned down to the ground that day; it’s gone. We replaced it with a large field of those burgundy roses over there, don’t you see? Do you even remember why you were sent to the institution in the first place?”

Merida slowly turned to her right, where Grace was standing. Grace was no longer there. In fact, Grace was not there at all. She looked down at herself. Her hands, and the butcher knife she was holding, were soaked in blood. Splatters of dried burgundy and gasoline were dried onto the dress she was wearing: a beautiful blue dress with ruffles and a large red heart printed on the bosom. A smile began to creep onto her face.

Merida remembered what happened that day.

She enjoyed mutilating those harmless fluffy creatures – twisting their limbs, breaking the bones of their squirming little bodies, and stabbing them with various sharp objects. It was fun to see them in pain, and their various reactions were so unique: fear, surprise, dread, sadness. Just for fun, she would rip out clumps of their fur and skin tissue with her bare fingers. Those rabbits made such cute noises when they were in pain.

Once her 12th fragile rabbit bled to death on the grass after she had impaled its eyes with a sharp scissor blade, she walked to the shed to stick the dead body into a fresh jar of vinegar brine. Once she reached the shed door, she heard a female’s voice that sounded characteristically like Brook’s coming from inside. Merida thought that her mother would be in the house, and that Grace was at soccer practice. Brook and Frank were probably being intimate in the shed. Clarice’s shed. This made Merida’s blood boil. She retrieved a Jerry can and matchbox, marched back to the shed, and lit it on fire. She remembered wiping the gasoline off on her already-stained blue dress. Only when she heard Clarice’s and Grace’s agonizing screams did she realize that she made a mistake.

Brook and Frank must have been in the mansion. Grace must have forgotten her soccer equipment in the shed, and came back for it. Merida’s plan had crumbled. It was all Brook’s fault.

She remembered when she first entered the institution with her father. He and some of the departmental heads of the facility were speaking inaudibly, and the rest of the day was spent conducting psychiatric evaluations of Merida’s mental state.

All of her diagnosed illnesses were recorded in her hospital records. She and her friends in the ward would sneak into the offices sometimes during the night, when security was lax. She remembered the first time checking her hospital file. She was filled with elation.

Kincaid, Merida. 15 years of age, 99 lbs, 5 ft 5 in. Brown eyes, black hair.

SCHIZOPHRENIA
BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER
ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER
SCHIZO-AFFECTIVE DISORDER
DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER
PSYCHOTIC DEPRESSION
DEPERSONALIZATION DISORDER
FREGOLI DELUSION

Merida liked seeing all of these technical terms piled on her file. It felt that every term was an award, some sort of accolade for her. She was unique, and special. She wished the list could be even longer.


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“Daddy,” Merida said, snapping back to reality. She was grinning like a fool. She approached him. Frank got scared and stepped back. Her grip tightened around the knife. Seeing that scared, whimpering look on his face gave her even more passion and energy.

“Merida,” he said warily, “You stay right there. Do you understand?” This man was an actual fool. He thought that Merida was going to kill him. What a coward.

She began to laugh hysterically. She dropped the knife on the ground, curling up into a ball. It all made so much sense to her. Why Grace was always speaking exactly what Merida’s thoughts were, why Merida never saw her physically in the same realm with another living person. This Grace was her creation. Her masterpiece. No one else could understand what a genius Merida was.

Police sirens blared in the distance, illuminating the midnight darkness. Merida closed her eyes once more. She didn’t care if other people thought she was crazy; it wasn’t craziness. It was her visionary intelligence. With her imagination, she could create a whole world that revolved around her alone. If other people were not compatible with her in that world, then she could just get rid of them. No one could understand.

The next morning, she was back in the psych ward. She returned to the same room, and was assigned the same CNA. Everything was how it was. She could no longer see Grace again, now that her medicine was being regularly administered. She was alone.

And she hated it.

Eventually, she wanted to see Grace badly. When the CNA came in her room to give her medicine, she would pretend to take it by shoving it in the corner of her mouth; when the CNA left the room, she would shove the pills under her mattress. She didn’t need the medicine at all – she wasn’t crazy. This was all a ploy. In fact, Merida knew that Brook had paid these people to drug and torture her.

She scratched herself one day when playing with a small blade she stole from the kitchen. It felt good as the warm red liquid squirted down her collarbone.

Time was flying by: 6 months had passed. She was beginning to see Grace again; not as often, but occasionally. Grace would cuddle with her at night, stroking her hair, whispering lullabies in her ear, telling her what a smart girl she was. How much she, and Clarice, loved her. How much they wanted to see her. “Join me,” Grace would say with an enticing smile.

The next morning, Merida checked herself in the mirror. After all this time, the wound on her collarbone was still fresh.

————————————-
————————————-

“Ma’am, it’s that patient again – Merida Kincaid. She keeps on screaming about how she’s dead, and that she’s a walking zombie. And every day, she keeps on self-inflicting wounds – if a nurse tries to stop her from hurting herself, she attacks them. Karen was rushed to the emergency room yesterday because of her. She attacks anyone who enters the room – we can’t even give her medicine or food anymore. What should we do?”

The department head sighed. “Yes, she’s been diagnosed with yet another mental disorder known as Cotard’s delusion. Put her in isolation. We’ll just have to wait until she dies of starvation or loneliness. And we can’t let this get out to the public- we’ll get sued for every penny we have, or even get jail time. There’s nothing else we can do…”

They stuck Merida in the isolation room the following day. The room was fully padded as to ensure that the patients could not kill themselves while in there. It took her 13 months to die even without food or water; since no one was able to enter the room to check on her, the only way the nurses were able to tell that she was dead was because the oxygen levels were no longer decreasing from the fully enclosed room. When her CNA entered the room the day after her death, she fell to the floor in horror.

Merida was most likely surviving by feasting off of her own flesh, and likely, her feces and urine. Her flesh was torn off her body with her bare hands, especially around her torso; her internal organs were visible. There were large, bite-sized marks of flesh missing from her other limbs. Feces and urine caked her chin, chest, and hands; they were coated around her wrinkled, torn lips. She was still smiling. She had written a large message on the pillowed walls:

GRACE AND I WILL BE TOGETHER FOREVER

It was written in that same, disgusting burgundy color.


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Credit: Anastasia Ducreux

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The True Culprit

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