Jean Maguire’s account of the events in question.
The day of the disaster began with the sun gently rousing the living. My bedroom window was east-facing and curtainless, so in the summer months I woke early, because the light was so strong.
That day was a Saturday, and Saturdays were usually the best day of the week. On Saturdays, we helped with chores around the house in the mornings before we were allowed outside to play until dinnertime. We normally had a good five hours to ourselves that weren’t ruined by the quiet drudgery of homework or housework.
There were five of us in the house. Myself, the only girl; my two brothers, James and Archie, and our mother and father, who cared for us with a distant sort of affection.
Then thirteen, I was the youngest of the three, and although my brothers were rarely unkind to me, there was an exclusivity that separated me from them. Perhaps it was because I was a girl whose femininity repelled like a dangerous scent. But that seems like an easy excuse. I wonder if it’s because my allegiance didn’t appear to be worth vying for. At fifteen, my eldest brother Archie had an authority over fourteen-year-old James that I could never quite unlock, but James too exerted an influence of sorts over Archie. While Archie was best loved in the family, James was best liked.
I knew my place, of course, and I was wary of Archie who was prone to rare, but sudden, fits of violence. Girls learn at a very young age to be careful around men.
Our home sat on a hill set far back from the sole dirt road below, a pinpoint encased in a tangle of forest that could be seen only by the sharpest of observers or by those who knew it. The forest was a dense and hostile growth that seemed to absorb both sound and life. My brothers and I could get lost in it for hours. When we were let out to play, we would scale trunks and wade in ditches, constructing forts with dead branches and damp leaves, wading through the brook in search of fish and frogs, looking for the track of coyote whose evidence proved elusive despite persistent haunting howls at night. But curiously, not once did I feel fear, even when we heard strange sounds or felt strange eyes peer at us from dark places. I think we fooled ourselves into thinking we belonged.
It was late July and the weather had turned brutally hot on that particular day. The cats sheltered themselves beneath the porch. The dogs laboured to lap water from their bowls in the shade. And the black flies took advantage of our lethargy, biting with a lusty thirst that left my skin covered in angry, itchy welts. We had just completed our last chore, tilling and weeding our vegetable garden, when Archie proposed we finish the fort in the woods we had started building the previous weekend.
It wasn’t our first fort, but it was a disappointingly flimsy construct, precariously bound with leaves and sticks and mud. Yet there was something about the act of designing and framing it that made us feel accomplished and proud, even if it had little utility in the real world.
“Let’s go.” Archie was already striding towards the forest, his rucksack swung over his shoulder, swinging wildly with every step. He assumed James and I would follow, and of course we did.
We had no other plans.
Archie was an expert craftsman already. Our mother and father had gifted him various tools over the years as a practical way of nurturing his interest in engineering. They were his prized possessions, and he always carried them with him. I remember accidentally walking in on him one rainy Sunday in one of our barns. He had laid them all out in a beautifully fanned line and was quietly sitting there, admiring the curve of the blades and the grain of the various woods. He didn’t know I was standing behind him, a passive witness to his contentment. I felt like an intruder.
“I wonder if it’s still standing after the rain on Thursday. A miracle if it is,” James said to no one in particular.
Our steps were laboured and my breathing turned shallow with the oppressive heat that enveloped us, but the canopy of greenery offered a kind of refuge our house couldn’t. I remember occasionally glancing upward to admire the vivid hues of greens that sparkled in intermittent pockets of sunshine. We walked quietly, with only the sounds of the black flies disturbing the silence.
About fifteen minutes later, we found it.
It was tired looking. The structure looked lopsided when you viewed it head-on, and it seemed as though some animal had gone investigating and had ripped some of the leaves from the roof. That, or the rain had gotten to it. Our task today was to strengthen the foundation with rocks and mud and to work on the interior, hopefully creating some kind of seats or stools and a makeshift table out of materials we could scavenge. Archie gave the directions.
“James, you go get some stones to strengthen the walls and we’ll try and find some mud near the stream. Might be too hot for mud, but I guess we could use damp dirt.”
Archie and I made our way down a steep hill to where we knew the brook trickled. James stood still for a moment, surveying his surroundings, before seeming to cast his eyes on a point of interest and making his way over.
“Ugh,” Archie said. “I forgot the bucket, so I guess we’ll just have to take it up handful by handful.”
Despite Archie’s concern that it would be too dry to find mud, I happened across a neat little puddle of it that had pooled in a crevice near the brook and happily dipped my hands in its soothing coolness. Archie had already carried a handful of mud up to the fort and was making his way down to grab a second helping when we heard a muffled cry in the distance.
For a moment, we stood in an eerie, breathless silence. The calm of the forest sounded a stark contrast to the pounding in my ribcage.
“Archie! Jean! Come here!”
It’s hard to explain how one can become engulfed in a forest, even when geographically close to a house or a road. But in this forest, it was easy to get lost if you didn’t know the way the brook ran and you couldn’t tell east from west, because the trees reached such a colossal height and there were no paths or trails. We had been taught by our mother from a very young age to gauge direction based on the sun, so we never got lost, except one time, when we ventured a good six miles inward past the brook on a very foggy day. That day, we had a hard time making our way home, but having acquired a good sense of direction, we never panicked, and managed to identify some unique markers that led us back to where we needed to go.
Archie and I had a sense of where James had gone because we knew where the best stones were, close to a rather impressive rock formation on the other side of the brook and it was fairly easy to get there, even if it meant crossing water and hiking up a steep incline to the other side.
“James?” I yelled.
We had waded through the brook and up the hill. When we peered over top, James was, as we suspected, standing near the rock formation, a neat pile of stones gathered near his feet. He looked at us curiously, like he was unsure whether he should have called us over or why he had called out at all.
This was because beside James stood a girl, around his height. Her very thin shoulders were slightly hunched, as though she were trying to avoid attention. Her blonde hair was matted and grimy, and her eyes alight with a feral quality, darting from subject to subject. I could smell her skin, even from a distance. It smelled like her pores were oozing the residue of a body that had gone unbathed for days. As Archie and I cautiously made our way closer, I saw she wore no shoes and that her dress, a curiously ruffled garment covered in blue roses, was threadbare and torn. It also looked about two sizes too big.
We stood in silence for a brief moment, before James cleared his throat.
“I’ve been trying to get her to speak, but she doesn’t seem to want to talk. I think I caught her by surprise.”
Archie awkwardly reached out to her. To shake her hand or say hello, I’m not sure. She instantly recoiled. But she didn’t run.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She met his question with silence, looking sideways at the forest floor.
“Do you need help? Where do you live?”
Archie looked impatiently at James.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“We can’t just leave her here. We should bring her home with us at least. Mom and Dad will know what to do.”
“No. We have no idea where she came from or who she is. She won't tell us anything. Let’s go.”
I, who had been observing this, suddenly interjected. I’m not sure why I was struck by the girl given I was only thirteen and didn’t have the life experience to truly understand that she must have been in a difficult place. I assumed, at that age, that everyone had a decent place to live, and that if you looked dirty or were too shy to say hello, it’s because you didn’t like to bathe or talk to strangers. I thought her case was simply that of a runaway who would soon venture back to the warmth of her home.
“Maybe she’s hungry? Home isn’t far away. She can follow us if she wants to. Mom and Dad will know what to do.”
James and Archie both stared at me. James, worriedly, and Archie with a flash of hostility.
“Come on, let’s go.” Archie’s voice was hard with impatience. “She can follow if she wants to.”
He had turned his back and had taken a few steps, when suddenly, the stranger spoke.
“Do you have any food?”
She spoke slowly and with purpose. Her voice had a raspy quality, like she was accustomed to whispering rather than talking aloud.
Archie looked at her solemnly. Then he began to rummage through his rucksack before locating a package of semi-crushed saltines.
“Here are some crackers.” He tossed them to her. “Might be a bit stale.”
The crackers landed awkwardly on her shoulder before falling to the ground. She crouched suddenly, ripping the plastic open with her yellowed teeth and shoved most of the broken crackers in her mouth. She barely closed her mouth to chew.
“I guess you were hungry.” James was smiling a bit, probably happy to have identified at least one of her complaints. “Do you want to come with us?” he asked.
She shook her head no. She still hadn’t finished swallowing the saltines.
He persisted. “Do you have somewhere to go? We could take you there.”
She stared briefly at each of us.
“I can’t see any adults,” she said in that odd hoarse voice of hers. “Could you bring me some food? I’ll pay you back.”
Although each of us doubted that last statement, I knew my brothers well enough to know that they would try and help her.
James spoke first.
“Sure. We can maybe stop by tonight after dinner. Depends on Mom and Dad.”
“Can you please not tell them about me?”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I just don’t want anyone else to know I’m here.”
“Don’t you need a blanket or pillow? How are you going to sleep?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I’ll manage.”
James spoke suddenly. “We built a fort. You might be able to sleep in it. It’s not very comfortable but at least you’ll be a bit protected.”
She gave us a half-hearted ok, but when Archie again directed us to follow him, she trailed behind.
It took us a few laboured minutes to reach the fort. It looked even sorrier than it had moments prior, all brown, and wilted, like a sad relic of yesteryear.
“Here it is,” Archie shrugged, as if to say, ‘it’s the best we can do.’
The girl inspected it briefly, then muttered a brief thanks before awkwardly crouching inside it.
“See you tonight.” Archie turned his back and started making his way back to the house. James and I followed, with James giving the girl a small wave before turning away. I didn’t look back.
We walked in silence for a few moments before Archie broke it with a loud whisper. I suppose he was irrationally fearful that she would hear us.
“I don’t like this. She won’t even tell us her name. She also gives me the creeps. What type of girl goes wandering in a forest and sleeps there overnight without anything?”
“She told us she’s hiding. Maybe she didn’t have time to pack anything.” James was trying to appeal to Archie, to sway him from telling anyone about her. He kept balling his right hand into a fist and then releasing it, a telltale sign he was troubled by what he had just seen.
“I dunno. It’s weird.”
No one said anything else for the rest of the way home. Our mother was surprised to see us come back so early and ended up finding us a few more chores to do before supper. We didn’t complain. I think we all wanted a chance to think about what had just happened, and what better way to do that than during the mindless monotony of sweeping, and tidying, and mowing the lawn.
Supper too was conducted in relative silence. Our mother and father exchanged a few words and asked us how our day was, but thankfully didn’t press any further when we gave distracted one-word responses: “fine,” “fun,” “good.”
As we were clearing away the dishes, Archie asked if we could go back outside before bedtime. This was a bit of an unusual request, because normally we played cards on Saturday nights, but our parents didn’t seem to think much of this departure and simply told us we needed to be home before it got too dark.
I had managed to swipe a few dinner rolls and an apple. Archie stole the end of a block of cheese and James nabbed a few cookies. Archie threw the food in his rucksack, and together we made our way back to the forest, again in silence.
Why didn’t we think it through more? Why didn’t we even talk about it amongst ourselves? I think it was the same reason we didn’t tell anyone about the fort. We liked having a secret. It made our lives seem a little bit more magical. And this was unchartered territory. An adventure in the making.
The evening was still hot, but somewhat tempered by incoming clouds. She was sitting outside our shelter, which still looked dilapidated.
James was the first to speak.
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
“Of course we would. Archie, give her the food.”
Archie opened his bag and began to lay the food items on a napkin a few feet in front of her.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She focused her eyes on me and spoke. “Lynn.”
“Why are you here by yourself?” I asked.
There may have been something about the food-offering that made her trust us a little bit. Or perhaps it was just that at that moment, she felt like telling her story, and it was a serendipitous coincidence that I asked her to tell it. She began to speak freely in between bites of food.
She told us she didn’t have a mom or dad. That they had died when she was four. She said she had lived in an orphanage for “as long as I can remember.” She told us that it wasn’t too bad until lately when she had been having trouble with some of the other kids. There was one girl, she said, “who was a monster to me,” and that it got so bad she couldn’t sleep at night, because she was afraid the girl would kill her. That no one believed her when she told them what had happened. That no one would do anything.
“You see this?” she said, pointing to a jagged cut stretching about five inches long from her collarbone to the base of her neck, “she did this while I slept. She stole a kitchen knife. I ran. I screamed for help. They accused me of doing it myself. No one believed me. She’s done other things too.”
“Lynn” told us that she needed to get away, so a few nights ago she snuck out after bedtime. She knew when the mistresses made their rounds and had timed it well. There was a door that the cook left unlocked in the kitchen to take frequent cigarette breaks.
“I knew that because I used to help with the meals. During free time after dinner, I sneaked into the kitchen and let myself out. There’s a salvation army bin close to the orphanage and people were always leaving garbage bags full of stuff outside it. I rooted through and found this dress. I started to run toward the forest. I knew they’d find me missing within a couple of hours. I didn't have anything on me. Not even shoes, but I didn't have time. I've been here for about three nights now. I’m spending one more night here and then I’m going to try and hitchhike my way out.”
I was skeptical, but I didn’t say anything. Neither did Archie nor James. I had never heard of an orphanage close by, not close enough to be able to walk to the forest. But we went to the country school and not the school in town, so it might be plausible that we had simply never heard of it due to our largely self-imposed exclusion from town life. But more than that, her story sounded rehearsed.
I had initially guessed her to be about fourteen years old, but after she spoke, I put her at seventeen. She was older sounding and even if she had grown up in an orphanage, they mustn’t have skimped on education because she sounded more like an adult than a child.
Though I didn’t really believe her, I wanted her to keep talking. It was all so fantastical, so I pressed for more information.
“Where are you going next?”
She spoke quickly, crumbs of bread occasionally falling from her mouth.
“I’m going to make my way to the next town. If I can find a shelter, I’ll be ok. I just need to get out of here. I don’t think they’ll look too hard for me, but they’ll look. It’s not good for their reputation to have a runaway orphan. They depend on money from the city council and churches.”
“And no one saw you leave?” I wanted to believe her, but it was difficult for me to get past the possible untruths.
“No, I told you. I had planned it well up until the part of me actually living outside. I wasn’t prepared for that.” She glanced over at Archie. “What else do you have in your bag?”
Archie, always one to quietly show off, began to pull his tools out. “I’ve started a collection and am hoping to start doing some more serious building work in the next few months. The fort is just a bit of fun, but I’d like to start building some better structures once I collect all the right tools.”
I thought he had clumsily and disappointingly misread the situation, mistaking her desire to change the subject for genuine interest in his hobbies. Archie had been bored by her story, and like most people, wanted to circle back to the topic of himself.
But I turned out to be wrong about that too.
Archie had pulled out a chisel and hammer along with one of his knives and set them carefully on the forest floor. The knife was a basic carving knife with a steel blade, about three inches long. Its tip glistened in the early evening light. I heard her lunge before I saw it happen. She let out a primal grunt as she seized the base of the blade, and then I saw her wrestle James’s neck to her chest, the glint of the knife pointed at his throat.
Then she told us, “Here’s what’s going to happen. You two are going to run back to your house or wherever you need to go and find me some cash.” She said she needed at least thirty dollars and that if we didn’t come back with the money by nightfall, she was going to kill our brother.
James’s eyes shone with sudden tears. He was caught between panic and shock as he stood paralyzed in her grasp. None of us had encountered this type of escalated violence before. It was a foreign, ferocious force.
Lynn no longer looked like the fragile orphan she presented herself as moments earlier. Instead, her slouch straightened into wiry upright shoulders and her eyes, once wild and squirrelly, were coldly calculating.
“Let him go,” I pleaded. “He hasn’t done anything. We promise we’ll give you the money.”
“Get me the money and I’ll let him go. If I hear or see any signs of anyone other than you two, I swear to God I’ll kill him.”
“Give us until a bit longer than sundown. We need more time.” Archie’s usual assurance faltered in fear. I remember feeling secondhand embarrassment.
“You better get it to me tonight.”
“We’ll be back, James,” I whispered to him.
My head pounded as we ran home. Our adrenaline carried us through. I focused only on getting the money.
It was dusk now. The light was gradually dimming and morphing into vibrant hues of pink and orange. I was so grateful Archie had negotiated the timeline. We stopped to strategise when our house was within sight.
“We should tell Mom and Dad what happened,” Archie said. “They’ll know what to do.”
“But what if they try and track her down and she hears them and then decides to kill James? All she cares about is running and not getting caught. I don’t believe her story either. I bet she did something awful and had to leave.”
Archie’s mouth trembled. He wiped his face with his hand, a gesture betraying his utter fear.
“Ok. You’re right. We need to just get her the money and hope that she’ll let him go. Mom and Dad can’t see us come in or they’ll question us. I’ll sneak through the back. I think I know where Dad keeps a savings jar. I just don’t know if it’ll cover thirty.”
“Ok. I’ll stay out here.”
As I crouched beneath a darkening sky, I could still feel the intense thudding of my heart, but I don’t recall feeling frightened. All I remember is a deep sense of urgency. I had every reason to fear for my brother’s life, but I was also still a child, and I got caught up in the adventure of it all.
Archie emerged from the house after several minutes.
“I’ve got it. Just over thirty dollars.”
“What about Mom and Dad?”
“They didn’t see me. They were listening to the radio.”
It was harder to navigate the forest in the evening, and although we ran most of the way, the journey felt interminable. I felt like I was watching myself and Archie from aerial view: there we were, marching with a dogged purpose, stupidly making our way toward known dangers that lay ahead.
When we saw Lynn and James again, they were sitting on the ground, Lynn still holding James hostage with the sharp blade, staring at us impassively. She was perplexingly strong for such a slight girl.
“Here’s your money.” Archie thrust the wad toward her. “But you need to let him go before I give it to you.”
She let out a small laugh.
“That’s not how it works. Give me the money first, and then I’ll let him go.”
I looked over at Archie, wondering what he’d do.
A moment of brief silence hung heavily in the air and then I saw Archie throw money in the air, bills floating softly in the night breeze, slowly making their way to a dry bed of earth.
Lynn didn’t move immediately. She cast an angry look at Archie and then, careful not to disturb her hold on James, slowly inched forward.
“Pick them up,” she said softly.
“No.” Archie was trying to wrest control.
“If you don’t pick up those bills and lay them at my feet, I’m going to stab him.”
During catastrophe, it’s difficult to understand the passage of time. Sometimes it feels endlessly slow, and other times, it moves with such extremity that you cannot trust your memory of what transpired. When I found myself lunging at Lynn and my brother, I felt an odd combination of the two: everything seemed to move at a bundled pace. My arms reached out for Lynn’s hair, I felt her head snap back, and James’ body lurch forward. Lynn let out a horrible, wounded howl as she tried in vain to recapture her intended victim.
And then I saw Archie and the thin blade of the knife and felt, by proxy, the blade twist, numerous times, in the left side of her chest. Blood pooled in her mouth, and in the dusk, I could see her eyes roll back like two eerie moons. I leapt back, disgusted at the sight and smell of her animal-like blood. I could hear her laboured breath gurgling beneath the sounds of my own panting.
Then time seemed to disintegrate into an eerie standstill.
“Jesus. What do we do now?” Archie was white with shock. She was alive, but not for long. The knife dangled precipitously from his hand.
James, recovered from the realization that he had just narrowly escaped death, calmly rose from where he sat on the earth, took the knife from Archie’s hand, and walked over to Lynn.
I remember the convulsed shudder she gave as he plunged the knife into her left breast, and the soft whimper she gave that was grossly intimate in the warm, heady night.
James looked back at us slowly. I sensed his mind race and thought here was someone who knew how to behave during a cataclysm.
“We need to get rid of her now. And quickly. If any part of her story is true, they may be sending a search party for her, if they haven’t already. We’re going to cover her with the fort. The animals might find her but if we’re quick enough tomorrow we can bury her properly. Right now we have to get back home.”
I remember the scent of earth that clung to my fingernails and the sweet stickiness of her blood. I did not cry. James and Archie seemed strangers to me then, but also too familiar to me, as though their breath and mine inhaled and exhaled from the same living being who busied itself with discarding a corpse. Who was she? I remember thinking, as we let the sticks and dirt and mud beat mutedly on her lifeless body.
We walked in silence back to our home once our task was complete. There was no sobbing or shaking. We were united in our impassivity. She threatened, we retaliated, that was that. Now we needed to hide our sin and atone for it later.
Our mother and father were still listening to the radio when we arrived home. They barely acknowledged us as we made our way through the living room and upstairs to our beds.
“Had a good day?” I remember my mother asking, never expecting more than a single affirmative in response. They were always distracted, my parents. So lucky for them.
I slept soundly. The next morning, I woke to the scent of fleshy bacon and eggs. James and Archie were already downstairs. James looked at me curiously, as though he did not recognize me and I had startled him in his own house.
He wordlessly slid the Sunday paper toward me. On the front cover, a rather ridiculous headline: “MENTALLY DISTURBED WOMAN ESCAPES ASYLUM.” I scanned the article: Female, age 21, history of violence, escaped institution, considered dangerous, do not approach.
I felt a sudden wave of nausea. Then I read it in quiet detail:
Ida Stewart, aged 21, escaped from Blythe Asylum. Stewart, who has a history of violence, brandished a stolen knife before stabbing a medical officer and making her escape. She is considered dangerous. Previous crimes including the murder of her father and mother. The police urge you not to approach the suspect if seen. Instead, please call your local police station.
There was a picture of her in the middle of the text: blonde, scraggly, bewildered, sardonic. How stupid I was to not realize she was much older. My instincts were correct, my prediction wildly off.
My stomach churned. I began to feel hot and cold simultaneously, like my body couldn’t adjust to its environment. A visceral urge to expel my bowels and stomach simultaneously came over me. She was a liar, but she was also wanted. They would come looking for her.
Sundays were for church, and so we endured the priest’s lonesome monotonous homily. Shifting uncomfortably and impatiently in the pews, we counted the seconds until we could escape. Our mother and father consented to let us back to play in the forest, disrupting our usual routine of chores. Did they sense disquiet or anxiety? Unlikely. We were just lucky that day.
It was one o’clock by the time we reached her. Very little exchanged between us. Each of us knew what needed to happen, but none of us wanted to say it.
The fort had been clawed back in our absence. No mud or sticks or rocks could disguise the smell of sweet, decaying flesh. The animals had gotten to her. Likely coyotes, perhaps even a black bear. Her body had been deconsecrated from the place of its unholy dwelling. Her face had been clawed at, her mouth agape in an unsightly “oh.”
Archie spoke first. “We need to make it smaller. Here’s an ax,” he said, handing us each a tool. “We can dig the ditch afterward.” “It” referred to her. Once a person, now an object.
It’s the smell I remember the most. The metallic acridity and meatiness of her blood and bone. We worked diligently, furiously, desperate for it to be over and done. She was the villain in this story and we needed her to disappear. No time for regret or mulling over what might have been.
When we were finished with the axes, we set ourselves to digging.
“We’re almost there,” James whispered. He was now the one in charge, the quiet strength in our emotional flurry.
We dug and dug. Our arms burdened by guilt and the heaviness of the rock and soil. It was achingly hot outside again. This must be what hell is like, I remember thinking to myself.
It rained dirt for some time as we shoveled frantically.
The crevice we eventually created looked a little bit like a cradle. I vomited when we had to move her body parts, but Archie and James maintained their composure. And then, we buried her and she was gone, disappeared into the interior of earth.
“That should do it,” Archie spoke softly. We stood, all three of us, by her makeshift grave, unsure what to do next. Archie was the first who turned to go. Then I think I followed, and James was last.
“And then what happened?”
“A few nights later, they sent a search team out into the forest, and they found her. Archie had stupidly left one of his axes near the crime scene and they traced it back to him. They questioned us and we were arrested and charged with murder, and here I am.”
Dr. Wilson’s office is bright and stark and white. He wants his patients to feel calmed but also invigorated by the levity of the space. A teenager sits before him. Jean Maguire. This is her first court-ordered appointment of many.
“Do you think your recollection of the events is accurate?
“Yes. It happened as I’ve told it. I swear it was an accident. We didn’t mean for anything to happen. She attacked us first.”
The psychiatrist takes a small sip of water and looks intently at Jean.
“You know, your brother’s version of the events in question differ considerably. James has said he feels enormous guilt about what happened to Ida. He said it wasn’t an accident but rather part of a game you all were playing. I think James called it “the hunter and the hunted”? He said that on that day in particular, you were all looking for animals to hunt, but came across a lost person instead, and that it was your idea to attack her. He said it was also you who killed her and that they never thought that was part of the plan.”
“James is lying. He’s trying to blame me because I’m an easy target and he’s idiotic enough to think he’ll get a lesser sentence than me and Archie.”
“It’s just that police didn’t find any markings on James to suggest that he had been held against his will for a period of time: no bruises, no scratches, no knife marks.”
The doctor continues.
“Can I tell you a little bit about Ida?”
“She was quite intelligent, according to some of her teachers. Her neighbours thought she was kind and shy but neglected. In truth, she had a horrible upbringing. She was an only child who murdered her abusive mother and father with an iron pipe and was placed in this institution before escaping. Her mother and father starved her and physically brutalized her.”
“I am sorry she had such a hard time, but she didn’t seem like much of a victim to me.”
“She seemed independent and sure of herself. She would’ve killed James if we hadn’t gotten her the money.”
“How do you feel about what happened?”
“I feel bad about it. It was awful, but like I said, it was self-defense. She attacked us first. We retaliated. Doesn’t the fact she herself was a murderer factor into this at all? It’s not like she was innocent.”
“Did you and your brothers play a lot of games together?”
“We spent a lot of time together. Our house is in the country. There aren’t a lot of other kids around.”
“Did you ever experience violence with your brothers?”
“Nothing more than play-fighting.”
The doctor stares at Jean. He’s not used to working with females who’ve displayed violent tendencies. This is disturbing to him.
“Let’s end the session for today. I encourage you to keep writing about your experience for the next session, perhaps focusing on how your feelings evolved after the event in question.”
Jean stands up. Her brown hair falls in greasy strings around her face, framing thinly veiled malice in her eyes. Her shackled hands clank, clink clack, as she exits the room shadowed by a looming orderly.
The psychiatrist takes another sip of water as he watches his patient leave the room. Liar, he thinks. Complete lies. He resumes his note-taking.
Patient Name: Jean Maguire
History: At least one brother (Archie) is suspected of physically abusing her throughout adolescence. Possible antisocial relationship to parents. Murder of Ida Stewart – Jean claims self-defense. James claims it was primarily Jean’s idea to kill Ida with Archie as a willing accomplice. Motive unclear, although James has stated Jean wanted to make some sort of sacrificial offering to the forest as part of a made-up ritualistic game about hunting. Archie has not upheld his right to remain silent for the time being. Trial date not yet set.
Progress: Patient reiterated the narrative of self-defense, maintains innocence. Unclear yet if she feels any remorse regarding the killing. Signs of psychopathic tendencies (e.g., manipulation, lying) but, as of yet, no definitive diagnosis.
Jean feels the days bleed into each other. The monotony is excruciating, each second like a dull weight chipping away at her. These appointments, though, they are something she looks forward to, something to plan for, something of a game.
After she is led back to her patient cell, she perches herself delicately on the edge of her thin, single bed mattress, humming a rhythmless tune to herself. It is starting to get dark and she stares intently at the wall, watching it eclipse in shadow.
As the world outside prepares itself for evening, she thinks about Dr. Wilson and his amateur line of questioning. A small smile appears at the corner of her mouth. She thinks hatefully of the psychiatrist’s red, meaty lips. The colour is so reminiscent of her recollection of Ida’s bloodied mouth before she had instructed her brothers to dig.
“So what’s the game today? I’m bored with the fort,” James said. They had a few on rotation and Jean and Archie were normally the ones to select which one they played. Their plans to finish work on a fort had fallen by the wayside.
“We need to hunt and kill. The forest needs a sacrifice, otherwise it will turn against us. It can be anything: a squirrel or even a bird. We need to take a life to give life,” Jean said.
They played this game often. They called it “hunter and hunted.” It was really just an excuse to find something and kill it, but Jean liked to pretend that it served a greater purpose.
The three siblings set off and began playing their make-believe. They were fifteen minutes into their search for an animal when they saw her in the distance. A young woman in a filthy ruffled garment whose wild eyes looked scattered and frightened. Her panicked face scanned furiously from left to right, as if she were being followed. She wasn’t running but walking briskly. Her bare feet made little sound, but the siblings’ ears were sharp, and they could sense her closeness.
“Hi!” Jean called out. “Are you lost?”
The girl froze and her eyes found them in the distance. She turned to run while Archie set off after her.
“Wait!” he cried out. “We’re not going to hurt you. Do you need any help?”
The girl was fast, but so was Archie. He zigzagged through the forest, dodging obstructions with ease. Soon he caught up with her and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“We won’t hurt you. Are you lost?”
She stared back in anxious silence. The heat was cruel and sweat streamed down her face.
Jean and James soon reached them. They saw her eyes were filled with tears.
“I just need to get out of here,” she said, “please just let me go.”
“We can try and help you out,” James said.
“Do you want something to eat?” Archie started rummaging through his rucksack. “I have some crackers.” He handed them to her.
She took them from him wordlessly.
“Why are you here? What are you running from?” Jean asked.
“I don’t want to talk. I just need to get out.”
“Did you do something bad?” Jean persisted.
She didn’t respond.
“What’s your name?” James asked.
“Lynn. Can you tell me how I can get to the nearest town? Which direction should I take?”
“If you keep west you’ll hit McGovern’s road. Keep in that direction and you’ll make it to Ashville within a day or so, if you walk quickly and don’t take too many breaks,” Archie said.
Lynn muttered thanks and turned her back to go, but Jean stepped in front of her.
“Wait. I need to know what you’re doing here in the forest. You must’ve done something.”
“Leave it, Jean. Let’s just let her go.” James eyed his sister warily.
“I’m actually kind of curious too,” said Archie. “Why are you here? Who are you running from?”
“Leave me alone.” Lynn tried to move past Jean, but this time Archie blocked her.
“Just tell us and we’ll leave you be.”
“I’ve escaped from an orphanage and I need to keep moving before they find me.”
“You look too old for an orphanage,” Jean remarked.
“Yeah, you do look a bit old for that.” Archie eyed her up and down.
“Well, that’s where I’m coming from,” Lynn responded defiantly.
Jean looked at her thoughtfully for a moment.
“The forest is giving her to us. I know it.” Her eyes glittered as she looked at her brothers. “This is part of the game.”
“What game?” Lynn’s voice sounded desperate. She kept trying to leave but Archie and Jean continued to block her.
“You know, I think you’re right. She’s probably done something really bad,” Archie said, looking at Jean.
“Cut it out,” said James. He was starting to worry. But no, he thought to himself, they wouldn’t take it that far.
“Yes. Otherwise, why would she be running? She looks wild. Look at the blood on her dress. She hurt someone. She looks like she might attack one of us,” Jean was talking excitedly now, starting to invest in her own fantasy.
She smiled at Lynn. “I'll tell you what. We’ll give you a head start. You have until the count of ten. One, two, three…”
Jean had always enjoyed violence. So had Archie. James tagged along as a reluctant bystander, an unwilling witness. He knew Archie had taught his little sister how to capture, how to torture, how to maim. But they only ever did this with animals, never with a person.
It didn’t take Archie and Jean long to catch her. James stayed back, too shaken to comprehend what was happening. He couldn’t have saved her. They could’ve turned on him too. He was sick with fear. They took it this far, he thought to himself incredulously. They took it where he thought they would never go.
Soon the screaming stopped and Jean and Archie returned to James.
Jean looked at him with disgust. “You’re such a coward. There was something wrong with her anyway. But if you tell anyone what happened James, remember you’re as guilty as either of us. You saw it all happen.
Now come help us get rid of it.”
James followed them to the scene and threw up when he saw what they’d done.
Back in her cell, Jean thinks briefly about her parting words to the woman she now knows as Ida before they showered her with earth.
“This is the end, boys. We won. The forest has been appeased.”
Child’s play, she thinks to herself as she continues to hum. It had all just been child’s play.