Excerpt from Reaper’s Rhythm
The warm light seeps through the closed sitting room curtains when I step into the drive. The muffled thump of dance music grows louder as I approach the familiar front door. I push the key into the lock, but the door swings open on its own. My breath catches in my throat, but I force it into a growl. Not only has my sister, Charley, not bothered to lock the door, she hasn’t latched it. Whatever she rushed home for must have been important.I step over the threshold and a blast of warm air hits me, enveloping me like one of Mum’s overprotective hugs. My wind-chilled face tingles, as I close and lock the door."Charley, I hope you’ve set the table.” My voice competes with the din of the deep bass of my sister’s music.I toss my keys into the wicker basket on the hall table. As I peel my coat off, I see Charley’s in a crumpled heap on the floor. Rolling my eyes, I scoop it up and hang it, then place her discarded boots in the shoe rack beside my own. Why am I the conscientious sister? I’m only sixteen. Charley will be heading off to university next year.Stomach rumbling, I snatch up the Chinese takeout I’d picked up on the walk home and wander into the kitchen. Frowning, I flick the switch to light up the pristine room. Mum is a clean freak now that Dad doesn’t live here. The table isn't set, even though Charley promised she would do it before she rushed off ahead."Charley,” I call out and then dump the bag on the kitchen table and stomp across the hall to the sitting room, shoving the door open.The music hits me first, making me jerk my head back, then the smell. An odd odour, metallic and rich, overpowers the air freshener on the mantel."Charley?" She must be trying to scare me. "Charley, stop messing around.” I grit my teeth, expecting her to jump out at any second.My body shudders and my flesh tingles as if an army of ants is marching beneath my skin. I back out of the empty sitting room and bolt upstairs. The smell is stronger, snaking down my throat, making me want to gag.“Charley?”I shove her door open, hard.Charley’s lying on the bed, her blond hair fanned out over the pillow. Her arms are spread wide, palms up. Crimson blood drips from deep slashes on her wrists. Her blue eyes are open, staring at the ceiling. But they don't see. They're dull, empty.Dead.The room spins. My stomach lurches and bile rises up my throat. I swallow and clap my hand to my mouth. Sagging against the doorframe, I can’t tear my gaze from the single lock of hair resting over Charley’s porcelain cheek. What should I do?Charley would know what to do.As I stumble down the stairs, my mind clicks into gear. A scream rips out of my throat, eclipsing the pounding music. My foot slips on the beige carpet, sending me tumbling down the remaining stairs. My shoulder and back slam against the wall. I scramble to my feet, screaming, sobbing, then stagger into the hallway, colliding into a young man with the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen.My own force knocks me backwards. His strong grip clenches my arm, preventing me from falling. I try to scream again, but the sound is trapped within my constricting chest. My sister is dead. A stranger is in my house.I writhe against his grip, lashing out with my foot. My toes crumple and sting when they hit his shin. I’m thrown off balance, but he holds me fast.He raises his thumb to my forehead and applies gentle pressure, as he sweeps his thumb towards my brow and then hooks it back up."Sleep." His quiet voice acts like a sedative.My head flops forward until my chin touches my chest. A new scent replaces the sickly metallic tang of Charley’s blood: freshly cut grass. Inhaling it makes my head fuzzy and my heartbeat slow.I want to see his face, memorise every detail. The contours of his cheeks and jaw, the shape of his nose, the colour of his hair. The police want to know those things, don’t they? The only feature I can see for sure is the impossible darkness of his eyes.My own eyelids droop, my limbs turn liquid. A strong arm loops round my back and lowers me to the floor. I fight against sleep. Each time I force my eyelids open, they flutter shut again."Forget,” he says. The word is nothing more than a whisper at the edge of my hearing. "Sleep."
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