No. It can't be true. They must have got it wrong. There's no way that it is true. Max just saw her last night. She was smiling and laughing. She was right there, sitting on the bed, with her nose in a book. She sees the scene in front of her. Her sister's room, but different. Last night it was kind of neat, with things spilling out of drawers, a result of not being able to let go of any object with any memory at all attached to it. A stuffed penguin peeks out from under the bed. Its nothing fancy, just a cheap prize you'd get at a fair. Max had urged her to throw it away, but her sister had laughed, and said, "Don't you remember? This is Priscilla Penguin, and she's from the fair when we pooled out allowance and bought 5 darts. We didn't pop any of the balloons, but the man running the game gave us this anyway, along with some butterscotch.". Mel had loved butterscotch. No. She needed to stop thinking that way. Mel was not gone. She was going to come back. As she was walking around the room, she almost tripped over an overturned lamp, the shards of the lightbulb scattered around it. She tried to ignore the fact that some were glittering like rubies. The room was a mess. Mel's prized comics were torn up and crimson spots stained the pages. Drawers were pulled open, and the window was shattered. The bedsheets were in a tangled mess half on the floor, half on the bed. Almost everything Mel had owned was broken. Her eyes started to sting, and her hand squeezed the penguin tighter. That was everything she had left of Mel. Pictures were ripped and shells collected from far away sandy beaches were smashed. So many memories gone, all in one night.
"Mel Bentley was only 14 when she went missing. The police are conducting an investigation, and it is believed that she was abducted. No further details have been released. If you have any information, please call the Maine Police Department. Her mother, father, and 13 year old sister are desperate."
Chapter 1: Now
6 Years Later
Max gingerly placed the article back in the box. Old feelings were starting to rise up. Frustration towards the police for not finding her. Sympathy for her parents. Sadness that Mel wasn't there. Hope that she was out there somewhere. And most of all, a blazing hatred to the person who took Mel.
Max looked around her dorm. She was at college now, going to Columbia, a prestigious school, in the heart of the city. Her parents wondered why she wanted to live in a city for four years when she had lived in the countryside her whole life. That was exactly why. When Max had chosen Columbia a year ago, she had been trying to forget about everything that had torn her apart. She was sure her teachers would be surprised that she made it this far. Before, her dream was to open a bakery in a small town, where everyone knew everyone, and regulars would come in every morning. Then Mel disappeared, and that dream was forgotten.
She shoved the box back under the bed, the box filled with pictures of Mel, articles about the case, and posters that asked if anyone knew where Mel was. She had forgotten to put those up. Max leaned against the bed and sighed. She checked her watch. 4:17 on a Sunday. She had nowhere to be, no friends to hang out with, not even a roommate. It was her sophomore year of college, and Max had requested a single. She didn't know why exactly. After Mel, she had become much more introverted. She had stopped caring so much about having friends and she had started obsessing over her sister's disappearance. Max noticed a picture that had fallen out of the box. It was an old Polaroid and in it was her and her sister. It seems cliche, but they were polar opposites. Mel didn't have any trouble letting go. Mel had one arm around Max's shoulder, probably telling a joke. Both girls were smiling and laughing. They were standing on a beach somewhere in Nantucket. Mel's hair was blonde, and it cascaded just below her shoulders in perfect curls. Max had flowing black hair tied up into a braid. Mel's eyes were a shocking blue, almost electric. Everyone thought her eyes were beautiful. Her eyes were green, but not in the way she wished. The green was subtle, not the type of green that would make someone say, "Wow!". Max shoved the tiny slip of paper back in the box.
She might as well start that paper for U.S. history, she thought to herself. They were studying cases that had made it to the Supreme Court and doing mock trials for them. She was one of the lawyers, and her side had won. The assignment was to reflect on how the trial went. She reached on the bed and grabbed her computer. She opened it and saw the desktop. It was the last picture ever taken of Mel. Two days before her disappearance, so it was the one that all the news stations had used when they asked if anyone had seen her. She moved the little arrow over, and clicked on the little google icon. When it finally opened, she saw the poster that Max had posted all over town.
The reflection was boring, and she felt her eyelids starting to droop. Against her wishes, her brain decided it was a good time to fall asleep.
Chapter 2: Memories
She was in Mel's room, except something was different. No crime scene tape blocked the door, and it was how she preferred to remember it. She turned, and what she saw made her jump. Mel was sitting on the bed, with the same book she had the night before Max's world fell apart. She was about to ask a million, probably stupid, questions when she noticed someone else in the room. It was her. Then past her was arguing her point in an argument they had never gotten to resolve.
"... the pre-pre chicken made the pre chicken, and then the pre chicken laid an egg, and out of that egg came the chicken. Evolution does't happen over a lifespan Mel. That's just not how it works."
She noticed her wild gestures, and then heard a laugh. Mel rolled over on the bed. She almost rolled off the bed.
"I was just messing with you. Why do you care about this so much?" Mel questioned as she rolled off the bed and threw a pillow at her little sister's head. Max caught the pillow and tossed it right back as if it were a boomerang. Mel grinned widely.
"Are you challenging me to a pillow fight?"
Max watched as her younger self snatched the other pillow of the floor and swung it onto her shoulder.
"I guess I am." is all she had time to get out before she was forced to dodge a jab made by Mel. Their pillow fights were different than most. There was an unspoken agreement that the loser had to buy something sweet of the winner's choice the next day. Mel usually won, and she always chose a slice of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting from the bakery in town. Max had only won about three times. The rules for winning was that you couldn't use anything other than the pillow you were holding, but once your opponent was on the ground you had to pin them down.
She watched her younger self launch at Mel with determination. Mel swung her pillow, but since Max liked to anticipate her moves, she dove to the side, and Mel became unbalanced. Mel regained her balance and sat on her sister.
"We might as well call Mr. Li and tell him to cook up some cake."
"You're crazy Mel.", and despite herself, a laugh escaped her mouth.
A knock on the door startled the two of them. Their mom poked her head through the door, strawberry blonde curls bouncing from the movement. Max remembered how her hair had turned gray from all the stress of having a missing daughter.
"Time for bed," and anticipating what they were about to say, she said, "and no complaining, it's a school night."
"Hey mom! Max owes me a Volcano!"
"Pillow fighting again? You're going to drain your bank accounts with those!" shouted their dad from the other room. Then they heard a creaking of the floorboards that Mel and Max knew how to avoid, from all the secret trips to the fridge to steal the last of the ice cream.
"I was so close this time!" she watched her young self whine. She knew what came next, because she had replayed this scene in her head for six years. Her mom sent her to go get ready for bed and she gave her mom and dad a hug.
She returned to Mel's room and flopped on the fuzzy rug. Mel had returned to her book.
"Yeah?" she said as she looked up from her book.
"I have a question."
"Then ask it."
"I have a problem at school. We're supposed to write a paper on what we want to be when we grow up. How did you know that you want to become a doctor?"
"Well, just think about what interests you. I like learning about the human body, and also want to solve the mysteries, and maybe even learn about a way to heal large cuts that does't leave a scar. Just think. Then maybe it'll just come to you. That's how it worked for me."
Max started to speak, but was interrupted by a very excited Mel. She knew that mood. Mel was about to convert into her "weird fact about some random thing" mood.
"Did you know that rats have amazing memories? Once they go on a route, they'll remember it forever."
Max tried to get a word in, but Mel just kept going.
"Rats also have peer pressure, just like humans."
She stared into the distance dreamily.
"Well, goodnight Mel."
Then she felt the room spin once around. This time she saw the police swarming, her and her family standing on the outside of the bright, yellow tape she never thought would enter her home.
A loud ringing noise started jolted Max awake. Her brain was groggy and her thoughts muddled. She quickly scanned the room to find where it was coming from. The source was her phone, vibrating on the bed, turned on so you could see the lock screen. It was a picture of Mel. So was her home screen. Max was worried that maybe she would forget Mel, so she just had pictures of her everywhere to keep her from slipping away.
She checked her phone. Just telemarketers. Max swiped sideways and it stopped. The thought occurred to her that maybe she should check her watch. 5:14. She realised that tears were streaming down her cheeks. Not like the way they do in movies, gentle and silent. She sniffed, and wiped the tears off her face.
Since she couldn't stand being alone with her feelings, Max decided to go get a hot chocolate. She had never understood the appeal of coffee. It was too bitter, unless you added about five heaping spoonfuls of sugar, whereas hot chocolate was delicious, creamy, and ready to go. Also, chocolate!
She was nearing the little cafe on third street when a rat skittered right between her feet. It started to hop towards an alley. She didn't know why, but the tiny brown rat reminded her of Mel, so she followed it. Something felt ominous, so Max grabbed a pipe that she saw lying on the ground. She had seen horror movies. The murder victims always did stupid things like go outside with a serial killer on the loose, or go downstairs to investigate a strange noise without a weapon.
The rat scurried into a building using a tiny hole in the wall. The door was right near it, and Max could tell it wasn't locked, but didn't know what was inside. She decided to kick it open.
After Mel had disappeared, Max had started taking martial arts lessons as a way that would supposedly, "help her sort out her issues" as some have phrased it. The door slammed open from the power of her kick. She raised the pipe onto her shoulder, took a deep breath, and entered the building. She felt prepared for anything.
She walked in, flipped on the lights, and what she saw made her drop the pipe. Dread and denial were overwhelming her. Old feelings rose up, emotions bubbling out, and Max stood there while everything began to wash over her.
The building was one large, open room. In the middle was a figure, laying on the ground, like a doll that had been abandoned. She saw no blood, but she knew this person was far gone. Her heart felt like an anchor, plummeting to the bottom of the ocean. She couldn't see their face, but Max knew that it was Mel.
She felt like an ocean that had been drained of all the water. Max had slightly recovered then had what was left of it stripped from her.
She started to back up, and slightly stumbled, the lump in her throat constricting her air, her insides knotting up. She turned and ran outside as fast as she could. She fumbled as she tried to dial in the numbers. Eventually she got them in, and someone picked up almost immediately.
All she could do was wait there, trying to hide her tears. In a couple of minutes, a squad car pulled up. Two officers got out of the car. One was male. His hair was short and spiky. The others seemed younger, with her hair tied back into a shiny, black ponytail. They looked around and saw her standing there. They approached her.
"Hi. Are you the one who made the 911 call a couple minutes ago?"
Max nodded, unable to speak.
"Where is it?"
"Just inside there." she said softly, her voice almost a whisper. They walked inside, ready for anything. Max just stood there, her thoughts a confusing mess. They were battling for priority in her brain. One was telling her that it couldn't be true. Another was worrying about if it was true.
Finally, they came out. One was talking into their walkie talkie, the other watching her. She heard some of what the officer was saying.
"...victim's name is Mel Last name here... early 20's."
No. No, they're joking. She was falling down a dark spiral, with no end in sight. No one there to help her, to pull her out. There was one thought pulling her farther down.
Mel is dead.
What if she had been earlier. Found that place earlier. Would Mel still be alive? Her parents were on a flight down from Maine. When Max had told them on the phone, all she could hear was silence. All those years of believing she was alive, hoping she would eventually be returned to them, those were gone.
The detectives had gone by in a blur. They asked her a lot of questions. Typical things like, "Did you know the victim?" or "How did you find them?" and of course, "So sorry for your loss.". Max knew that the different papers would be fighting over this story.
Small Town Girl Found Dead in Big City
Mel Last Name Here was found dead yesterday evening. There is even more to this story than meets the eye. It all started when she went missing from her family's home in Maine. The Maine Police Department never solved the mystery that was her disappearance. The person who discovered the body is her younger sister. She has not been available for questioning. The police have not released any details. Mel Last Name Here has been missing for six years, and now, will the truth finally be uncovered?
There it was. The next morning on the front page was an article about her sister. They were trying to turn her death into a paycheck for themselves. She had to avoid cameras and reporters wherever she went. Her professors understood when she was late for class. Some offered their condolences, others informed her that they were there for her. Classmates would say that they were sorry for her loss. She knew those were empty words. None of them had even noticed her before. She was sure that a few of them were trying to get pictures with the "Nickname from reporters here". She spent even more time in her dorm because of this. It was hard for her not to punch some of the reporters. Her grades were falling, she couldn't focus. Max thought maybe she would lie and tell them she couldn't come to school for a week.
They couldn't have the funeral yet. Mel's body was still in the morgue, and her parents wanted the police to find the killer. If they buried her body, then the clues would be lost, and they would never get closure. Max couldn't wait until she found the person who destroyed her life and took Mel's. She was going to find this person and who knows what she would do then. Max savored the thought of confronting them. She knew that the people in movies, shows, and books always stopped the moment before and thought, "Is this what they would want?" then put down their weapons and brought them in to the police. Max knew that she wouldn't do that. They just did that in those fictional things so people wouldn't hate the main characters for killing someone.
She would let the police lead her to the killer then strike. After all, how long would it take them?
Chapter 5: The Investigation
The police are just clueless, she thought as she set down the newspaper. It had been four days, and there were no new leads. Apparently, as all the news stations phrased it, "The police have hit dead end after dead end in the case that has captivated New York.". Everywhere she turned, there was something reminding her of the case. Newspapers, reporters, someone recognising her. One even asked if they could take a selfie with the Name from reporters here. She just kept walking, resisting the urge to punch the insensitive person right in the face.
She would just have to handle it all by herself. She knew now that she wasn't going to get any help from the police. Time to go home again.
Not many people understood how hard it was for her to go home. Max hadn't been back to her home town for years. They had moved after Mel disappeared because, after all, it wasn;t hard on only Max.
She made plans for her trip. An excuse to leave school for a few days. A place to stay. A list of places to avoid. A list of people to suspect. When she finally got there, the first thing Max did when she got there was go to Mr. Li's Pastries. She knew this might be a bad idea, but she kind of missed Mr. Li. Mr. Li was a nice man, about 60 years old. He had immigrated to America when he was 28. He came with his wife and seven year old daughter. She would be 32 now. Max had never really known her. His daughter, Chenghuang, which means morning glory, didn't come around very often.
She walked up to the door with a sign that says the store is open. She was about to push it open when her arms went stiff. Memories were returning, memories she had pushed away, memories fighting to get to the surface. She took a deep breath, then another, then another. She raised her hand and pushed the door open. She stepped inside and took a look around the main area. Directly across from the door was a counter with a cash register sitting on it. Above that was a chalkboard with the menu handwritten across it. Mr. Li had always disapproved restaurants that had their food displayed on a screen. The walls were a comforting, homey color that made it feel like the walls were inviting you to come and stay a while. There was a nice amount of windows that let the right amount of light in, but no matter which chair, the light would never shine directly in your eyes. It was her favorite place to be. Mr. Li walked out from the back, cocoa powder and flour everywhere.
"What can I get for you?" he asked.
"I will have one of your delicious volcanoes please." Max replied. He hadn't recognised her, and she hadn't expected him to. The last time he had seen her was when he had come to bring her family pastries after Mel was gone, and she was upstairs the entire time.
"Okee dokee, and is there a name with that order?"
"Max Last Name Here.". He started towards the back then paused. When he turned around, his eyes were sparkling.
"Is it really you? I'm so sorry about Mel. How about we have some tea and you can tell me what suddenly spurred you to return home."
"Well, I thought that it would be good to be here for my parents-" she started to say, but stopped because of the wise look Mr. Li was giving her. How did he know everything she was thinking? He always had, and that hadn't seemed to change. She knew there was no point in lying to Mr. Li, so she told him. "I'm going to find who killed Mel."
He chuckled, and then looked Max right in the eyes, and said, "Of course you are." then he walked into the back. A few moments later he came out balancing a teapot, two teacups, a tiny jar of sugar, an even smaller pitcher for milk, and two volcanoes. A smile crossed her lips. This was exactly what she needed.
They chatted for about an hour and a half, talking about Mel. They talked about how smart she and funny she was, how she never threw anything away, how she and Max were inseparable. She had her flaws too, but not many. Mel had hated putting her dishes away. Dirty laundry was her kryptonite. It had piled up in her room until someone would come in and order her to do it. Mel loved baking, but hated the cleaning. Somehow Max always got roped into doing it.
Eventually, she set off. Next stop, Rose Hill, her sister's best friend. Rose was about three year older than Mel, and they had met on the first day of highschool. Mel had come home in a very happy mood, and not normal happy, unusually happy. Max, being the curious person she was, had to ask what happened. Mel told her about how she had a new friend.
After that, Mel started to spend more and more time with Rose. Max knew that Mel had tried to balance her time between her friend and her sister.
Max approved of Rose, but sometimes felt wary of her. It was just a feeling she had sometimes.
The house was large, so large, it seemed to loom over her. Max parked her car and turned the key. As the engine puttered to a stop, she got out of the car, and slammed the door.
The house was blue, with a green-ish hue. It seemed inviting, but not the small, cozy type of inviting. This house had three stories, and an extensive yard in the front. Who knows what the house was hiding in the back.
Her shoes crunched on the gravel as she walked towards the door. The doorbell made a pleasant tune when it was pressed.
"I'll get it." someone hollered from inside, followed by lots of loud thumps. Suddenly the door opened, and instead of Rose, there was a small girl, about six years old.
"Who are you?" she demanded, hands on her hips.
Max tried not to laugh. The girl at the door looked like she was trying to be older than she actually was.
"Is Rose home?"
The girl looked her up and down, a wary look in her eyes. Then someone came up behind her. It was Rose, about 23 years old. She paused, a puzzled look crossing her face.
"Max is that you?" Rose exclaimed, eyes glinting with an emotion that Max couldn't quite place. A tiny voice in the back of her mind told her it was malicious. Ridiculous, she thought.
"It has been too long hasn't it. You should come in, we can catch up." Rose said, opening the door wider, beckoning her in. As she entered, Max heard the song Rescue Me, by OneRepublic playing in the background.
"So this is still your favorite song, huh?" asked Max.
"Yup, and I play it so often that people won't come to my house because of it.". They came to the living room, and Rose motioned to the couch. The couch seemed like one of those things that people bought just because they were fashionable, not comfortable. In fact, so did everything else in this house.
They chatted, but Max was trying hard to remember every word that came out of Rose's mouth, every movement she made, every pause before answering a question. Turns out that the kid who had answered the door was Rose's adopted daughter, Lily.
After a while, Max tried to wrap it up. She had more things to investigate.
"If you're ever in the big city, you should come by." Max said.
"Oh no, I never leave Lily." Rose replied.
Max left the house and saw that the sky was beginning to darken. She entered the location of the Bed & Breakfast into her GPS. As she drove back, her phone began to ring. Max pressed the little green button and put it on speakerphone.
"Okay, you finally picked up.". Her mom's voice was flurried, almost panicked.
"Sorry, I left my phone in the car. What is it?"
"The detectives working the case came and told me that we should start planning a funeral. They're releasing Mel's body. We are planning on having an open casket funeral."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Calm down. It will be fine-" her mom began to say, but Max interrupted her.
"Hang on Mom, I gotta go. I'll call you back later." she pressed on the brakes and got out of the car. Max had arrived at the Bed & Breakfast, so she went inside and got her stuff. The checkout was very fast. Max drove to her parents' home and went inside. A single police car was outside her house.
Her mom was standing outside the door while her dad and an officer were carrying a coffin into the house. Max followed them in.
The funeral was in two days and Max busied herself with preparations. Finally it came. Friends from her past arrived, along with Rose and her daughter. It went well, but Max was analyzing everyone. During the ceremony, everyone had to walk by the casket, and say something about Mel. Max went third, after her parents. She started to mutter about all the good times, all the memories, when she noticed something. Mel's arm had a scar stretching across her forearm. When she looked a little closer, she noticed it said, Rescue Me. The police had most likely noticed that. Max realized that she was probably taking a long time, so she moved on so the next person could go.
After the funeral, Max started to talk to her mom, partially to distract herself.
"It's so nice that Rose could make it to the funeral with her daughter and everything" Max remarked.
"I know, considering that she already came by a few weeks ago to tell us how sorry she was for what happened to Mel."
Max's face must have showed her shock, and said,
"Of course she came by, they were best friends."
"I gotta go Mom, bye!" she said as she hurried out the door.
Chapter 6: Confrontation
Max felt so many emotions as she drove to the house of the killer. Her anger was in control of her body, but sadness took a back seat to the action. She pulled up to the driveway and slammed her car door. She didn't even bother knocking on the door, she just busted through. Rose was sitting in an armchair, reading a newspaper. She dropped it in surprise.
"You killed my sister!" Max roared as she ran towards Rose. She knew that Rose had done it, but why would she? Why would she kill her best friend?
Max got in a punch, but Rose fought back with animosity that Max had never seen. They tumbled down and started to wrestle. Rose got the upperhand, and sat on Max.
"You know, I didn't want to kill her, but she gave me no choice. I wish I didn't have to kill her, but that's just the way things work."
Max's hand inched towards the fireplace.
"And now look what you've done."
She felt the cold metal of the brick on her fingertips.
"You know I killed her."
Max's hand curled around the long metal rod.
"Now I have to kill you."
Rose opened a drawer in the cabinet next to her, and pulled out a knife.
She raised it in the air.
Max swung the poker at Rose.
The metal hit her head, and Rose fell off of Max, unconscious. Squad cars pulled up outside the house, red and blue illuminating the room. They swarmed inside, guns raised. When they saw the living room, all the officers lowered their guns. That was the last thing Max saw before she too tumbled to the floor. She had lost so much blood through the stab wound in her stomach.
Chapter 7: The Answer
The constant beeping was the first thing Max heard when she drearily opened her eyes. There was her mom and dad, sitting by her bed. At the door was a policeman standing watch. When her dad turned towards her and saw she saw awake, he let out a joyous cry. The policeman hurried out and soon returned with a doctor. They told her she was lucky to be alive. Rose had stabbed her and the acid from her stomach had started to leak out. They had saved her through the wonders of medicine.
It turns out that Rose was older than she claimed to be, carrying a false birth certificate. Rose had killed before, she was wanted. Mel must have found out somehow. Then Rose had abducted Mel and kept her hostage for years, fearing that Mel might tell her secret. Rose had refused to tell the detectives what had occurred to cause her to kill Mel.
Max had trouble even walking through the town. Everything that had cut her heart open six years ago was back, about three times worse. Everything reminded her of Mel, Rose, or happy memories marred by the truth. Someone, at some point in history, said to never ask a question you don't want the answer to. Max had done that in a way. She had dug, and dug until the answer had surfaced. Did she wish she hadn't found the truth? No. She just wished it had been a different answer.