It sat on the table. Small, round and unobtrusive. The room was empty and silent, but for the gentle tapping of the open window blowing against the side of the house. The net curtain shivered in the breeze.
It was three weeks before anyone came to check why the window, now broken, had been left open for so long. The neighbour, not particularly observant, had called the police in to check, after the gardener had mentioned the window at least twice.
Midvale police station had two officers on duty at a time and Lisa Alderton had drawn the short straw this time. She’d left Bruce, finishing the crossword they’d been working on, to drive down to old Mrs Kempsey’s house. She was a strange old lady, and now that Lisa thought about it she hadn’t seen her at the craft market for a couple of weeks. Mrs Kempsey was generally there without fail, searching for oddities and knick knacks to fill her little house. She’d always stop when she saw Lisa and tell her every time how she remembered Lisa as a little girl hiding behind her mother’s legs and laughed about the way Lisa’s daughter, Annie, was doing the same.
Lisa felt uneasy as she drove to the house, she’d heard stories about poor old people dying in their house alone, no one checking on them for weeks. Her uneasiness rose as she approached the little house, the lawn was overgrown and the letterbox was overflowing with junk mail. She walked up to the door and knocked, there was no answer and she could sense a stillness within. She knocked again and then made her way around the side of the house, she noticed the neighbours curtains flicker as she approached the open window.
The broken glass was scattered amongst the forget-me-nots in the garden, Lisa peered in, she could see nothing out of the ordinary, just the typical lounge of an old retired woman, a rocking chair, a cluttered table, knitting in a bag, just no woman. “Mrs Kempsey” she called into the room. She strained to hear a reply, but all she could hear was the distant purr of lawn mowers. The commonplace sound did nothing to lighten Lisa’s worry. She’d call it in, there was nothing else to do really, and in such a sleepy town it wasn’t like she’d be clogging up the airwaves. Then she’d see about getting in. Part of her was hoping Bruce would come down, just in case...
“Take a look inside, no need to be hasty” Was all the reassurance Bruce gave her, so heart beating Lisa pulled herself in through the broken window. She could feel more eyes on her now, from at least a couple of houses, where were all the prying eyes when Mrs Kempsey wasn’t checking her mail? “Hello?” Lisa called uncertainly, “Are you home?”
She searched the house thoroughly, it didn’t take long, there was nowhere the little old lady could have hidden and each room was as empty as the next. Puzzled and rather relieved Lisa returned to the lounge. Maybe she’d just gone on holiday, just because Lisa had never heard of any living relatives didn’t mean she didn’t have any. Poor old lady, she’d lost her husband and son in a motor accident thirty years ago. Lisa’s eyes welled up at the thought, as they always did. Her own brother had died prematurely too and the guilt was still as sharp and suffocating as it had ever been. As the years went on and her life had changed it had in fact become worse.
Lisa was about to call Bruce again to get his opinion when she felt her eyes drawn to the object on the table. In a house full of statues and ornaments it was a strange thing to notice, but something indescribably caught her attention. She moved closer and peered at the object. It was jet black, round like a marble but it sat unmoving on the middle of the table. She thought she could see the light of the window reflecting in the sheer black…rock? As she looked closer she swore the light became a picture, a tiny figure?
The noise of a patrol car snapped Lisa back into the real world and without hesitation she had snatched the round object and stuffed it into her pocket before the car’s engine had stopped. When she thought about it later, she couldn’t explain the urge, she just knew that once she had touched it she’d never let go of it again.
* * *
The reporters only spent three days in Midvale, calling on witnesses, family members, and old friends to come forward. No one did, poor old Mrs Kempsey went on record as a missing person and despite the ill-timed concern of the neighbourhood, no answers were found. It bothered Lisa, more than she told anyone. More perhaps because of the dark secret she carried in her pocket every day. It was, as much as anything in the little house, evidence, and in Lisa’s heart she knew it was more.
Every night she would spend hours staring intently at the little ball, watching the light move and dance. It had become an obsessive routine. She’d read to Annie and kiss her goodnight, watch the late night news with Fred and then when he started to drift off she’d tiptoe into the kitchen and pull the little orb out of her pocket and set it on the bench. She could stare at it for hours and it was the only time in her day that the gnawing guilt she felt about Peter ebbed slightly. The strangest thing was the closer and more often she looked the more certain she became that the dancing light was in fact a tiny, moving picture of her brother, waving his arms at her.
* * *
It was their last day of high school, being twins their parents had always made double the fuss about these kinds of mile stones. Their first day of school, for example, they’d each woken to a brand new schoolbag hanging on their bunk bed, full of new stationery. On their last day of high school Peter and Lisa had been amazed and excited to find the old beat up Morris Minor in the drive way. Their parents weren’t rich, they’d been saving for the car for months.
Lisa still felt nauseous to think about how she’d fussed to get the first turn driving. She’d always been stubborn, too used to getting her way from her gentle brother, this time being no exception. They’d piled into the little car, cranked up the radio and waved goodbye to their smiling parents. Lisa had always been the more reckless of the two, at times it had made Peter laugh, but usually made him curse and this had been no exception. “Fuck sake slow down Lisa!” he’d screamed as she hit the barrier at 110 k an hour.
She’d spent a month in hospital, missed her brother’s funeral. It took six weeks more before she could walk without crutches and even longer before she saw either of her parents smile again. Her father turned to work, her mother turned to more subtle forms of avoidance, sleeping pills, wine, codeine. Whatever she could get. The house became silent and all Lisa could feel was guilt, echoing in the empty rooms, shrieking from her mother’s dead eyes and her father’s absence, choking her sorrow and crushing her heart.
Police training had been an escape of such. She’d met Fred there, he’d reminded her a lot of Peter. They’d fallen in love and eloped, Fred had seemed relieved when she suggested it, nowhere near as relieved as Lisa had been not to have to see the tears in her parents’ eyes, knowing she’d robbed their son of such a day. Whether they blamed her completely or not, Lisa had and she’d taken all of their sadness as well as her own and buried herself under it. Outwardly, she’d kept it together, they’d moved back to Midvale when Annie was born and both sets of grandparents had found purpose in their retirement, spoiling the little girl.
* * *
A month had passed and Fred had started to notice a change in his wife. She’d been sleeping less, dark rings permanently decorated her eyes and although at times she seemed more carefree than she’d ever been, there was a strange kind of desperation he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Lisa was obsessed. She knew it but she didn’t care. She’d found an answer, she wasn’t sure what it was yet, but she knew it would fix things. The stone weighed heavily in her pocket when she was around other people and transfixed her when she was alone. She just had to figure it out, she could see Peter, she knew it, trapped in the shell of the ball, waving to her, promising her forgiveness.
Mrs Kempsey, that was the key, surely there was a clue back at her house. No one had moved in, Lisa had been driving past for weeks now, wondering whether she should go in. It seemed unlikely that there’d be anything left in the lounge, she’d seen the trucks taking away bits and pieces weeks ago, but there was nothing else she could do.
She drove to the little house on her lunch break. She opened the front door quietly, they’d kept the keys at the police station during the investigation and she’d made a copy, for just this purpose. She felt a strange vibrating hum in her pocket as she moved closer to the lounge. The armchair was still there and the table but the rest of the room was empty. Pushing the arm chair around so that faced the table, Lisa noticed a photograph caught down the side. She pulled it out and felt no surprise at seeing the young man and boy looking back at her. Mrs Kempsey had understood, maybe she’d found the answer already?
Lisa took the ball from her pocket as she sat in the chair, she noticed now dusty chalk on the table. It was an odd pattern but it made a strange kind of sense to her. Lisa took her pen from her pocket and clutching the round black stone in one hand she drew hard definite lines on the table. Feeling giddy with certainty and excitement Lisa placed the ball reverently on the table. It sat.
Lisa leaned forward in the dusty armchair. “Peter” she whispered “Peter, it’s me”
The ball started to spin, slowly at first then faster, the hum she’d heard as she’d entered the house grew to a whine. Lisa leaned in more and began to see an image take shape, it was Peter, she knew it! As the ball spun the outer darkness widened and Lisa leaned closer and closer to see her brother in the centre. She reached out her hand and the darkness seemed to pull her closer. The tiny image of her brother grew and she could begin to make out his face, his arms were waving desperately. She was so close, she wanted to let go, throw herself into what seemed to be a vortex to the past. To see her brother, hold him again, be free of the guilt and sorrow forever. She stood, about to leap towards her brother, into the light that had replaced the table, the floor even. When suddenly her brother disappeared and the darkness of the circle grew thicker and denser, faster and faster. “Peter!” The feeling of happiness Lisa had become accustomed to while staring at the little stone had evaporated. Her outstretched arm flickered before her eyes, her hand disappeared completely in the blackness. It took all the strength she had to pull it back into existence. She grabbed the armchair desperately, trying to fight against the intense pull of the spinning, now giant orb. She tried to run for the door but as she let go of the chair she felt her whole body being swept into the centre of the darkness and she was pulled into nothing.
It sat on the table. Small, round and seemingly unobtrusive. The room was empty and silent.