I’ve just killed Carol Ann. Sweet, innocent Carol Ann.
Her blonde hair flows down her back and trails in the spreading
pool of blood.
It seems I’ve known her my whole life. Every memory
from my childhood is permeated by the blonde angel named Carol
Ann. Skipping up the street after the ice cream truck, getting
lost in the shadows during a game of hide and seek, watching
her sit in the window of her pink room, brushing that glorious
golden hair. I think of Carol Ann and I rewind into an eight-year-old
child, bored and alone, wishing for a different life. What
have I done?
She spied me sitting on our front step, twirling my fingers
through the dandelions in the flowerbeds. Mama had sent me
out to pluck the poor, insignificant weeds from the ground,
worried they’d ruin her prized flowers. To hear her
garden club talk about them, Mama’s flowerbeds were
local legend. Full to the brim with the heady blooms of gardenias,
azaleas, jasmine, roses, sweet peas, hydrangea, daylilies,
iris, rhododendrons, ferns, fertile clumps of monkey grass,
a smattering of black-eyed Susans… the list went on
and on. A green thumb, Mama had. She could make any flower
grow and peak under her watchful gaze. All but me, that is.
The strange girl I’d come to know as Carol Ann stood
on the sidewalk in front of the A-frame house I grew up in,
her shadow casting shade across my left foot. I looked up,
interested in what has caused the momentary cooling. It was
past 90 degrees, a sweltering summer day. A yellow haired
goddess stood before me.
“Hey girl,” she said. “Would you like to play?”
“Do I wanna play?” I answered, numb with fright. I’d never
had a playmate before. Most folk’s kids steered clear of me. Mama’s
garden club friends didn’t bring their spawn to visit with me while they
played canasta under the billowing tent in the backyard. The nearest child my
age was a bed-ridden boy who coughed constantly. Mama made me go over there once,
but after I screamed as loud as I could and pulled his hair, she didn’t
make me go back. There was no one else.
“Are you simple or something?”
“Oh, never mind.” She turned her back and started away toward the
river, skipping every third step. She wore a white dress with a pink ribbon tied
in the back in a big bow – the kind I’d only ever wear on Easter,
to go to the services with Mama. Even from behind, she was perfect.
My voice rang as true and strong as it ever had, deep as a church bell. She stopped,
dead in her tracks, and turned to me slowly. Her eyes were wide, bluer than Mama’s
china teapot. Then she smiled.
“Well. Who knew you’d sound like that? I’m Carol Ann. It’s
nice to meet you.”
She strode to me, her hand raised. I’d never shaken hands with a girl my
age before. It struck me as awfully romantic. She grasped my hand in hers.
“How do,” I mumbled.
“Now, is that any way to greet your dearest friend?” Her voice had
a lilt to it, southern definitely, but something foreign too. She squeezed my
hand a little harder, her little fingers pinching mine.
“That hurts. Stop it.” I tried to shake loose, but she was like a
barnacle I’d seen on Tappy’s boat once. Tappy took care of the rest
of the yard for us. He wasn’t allowed to touch the flowerbeds, but someone
had to mow and weed and prune. Mama could grow grass like no one’s business.
“Not until you do it right. My God, am I going to have to teach you manners
as well as how to bathe?”
She wrinkled her nose at me and I realized how sweet she smelled. Just like Mama’s
flowers. I was lost. I looked her straight in those china blue eyes, my dull
brown irises meeting hers. Cleared my throat, but didn’t smile.
“It’s nice to meet you as well.”
Carol Ann dropped my hand then, and laughed, a tinkling, musical sound like wind
chimes on a breezy afternoon. She had me enthralled in a moment.
“Let’s go skip rocks in the river.”
“I’m not allowed. Mama says—”
“Oh, you’re one of those.” She dragged the last word out, gave
it an extra syllable and emphasis.
“One of what?” My hackles rose. Two minutes and we were having our
She smiled coyly. “A Mama’s girl.”
Back then, I thought it was an insult. I reached out to smack her one good, but
she pranced away, closer to the river with each skip.
“Mama’s girl, Mama’s girl.” She sing-songed and danced
and I followed, my chin set, incensed. Before I knew it, we were in front of
the river, a whole block away from Mama’s house. I wasn’t allowed
to go to the river. A boy drowned the summer past, no one I knew, but all the
grown-ups decided it wasn’t safe for us to play down there. This girl was
new, she wouldn’t know any better. But if I told her that we couldn’t
be here, she’d start that ridiculous chant again. I didn’t want to
be a Mama’s Girl anymore.
We skipped rocks until dinnertime. Mama skinned my hide that night. She’d
called and called for me to come to dinner, had Tappy look for me. Carol Ann
and I were too busy to hear. We skipped rocks, whistled through pieces of grass
turned sideways between our thumbs, and dug for worms. I showed her how to bait
a line and she nearly fainted dead away when I put a warm, wriggling worm in
her hand. Tappy found us right after sunset, took me home screaming over his
shoulder. The joy I felt wouldn’t be suffused by Mama’s switch. Never
again. I had a friend, and her name was Carol Ann.
It was the first of many concessions to her whims.
“My goodness, Lily, can’t you try to look happy? You’re all
sweet and clean, and we’ll have some ice cream after, if you’re good.
“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled, sullen.
Mama had me spit shined and polished for a funeral at church. I didn’t
want to go. I wanted to run off to the river with Carol Ann, skip rocks, have
a spitting contest, something. Anything but go to church, sit in those hard pews
and listen to Preacher yell at the old folks who couldn’t sing loud enough
because their voices were caked with age and rot. I didn’t think that was
fair to them. I remember my Granny vaguely, with a moldy smell and a long hair
poking out of her chin, but she’d scoop me in her arms and sing to me,
her voice soft like the other old folks. I liked that, liked to hear them whisper
the words. It made the hymns seem dangerous in a way. Like the old folks knew
the dead would reach out of their very graves and grab their hands, pull them
down into the earth with them if they sang loud enough to wake them.
But Mama wasn’t hearing no for an answer today. We walked the quarter mile
to the Southern Baptist, greeted our brothers and sisters, sat in the hard pews
and celebrated the death of Mrs. O’Leary. Preacher made sure we knew that
we were sinners, and I felt that vague guilt that I was alive and Mrs. O’Leary
was dead, though death was supposed to be a glorious state of being for a reformed
We finished up and put Mrs. O’Leary in the ground. I tried hard to hold
my breath in the graveyard so no spirits could inhabit me, but the graveside
service took so long I had to breathe. I took small sips of air through my nose,
felt my vision blacken, then Mama pinched my upper arm so hard I gasped, and
I gave up trying to hold my breath. All the ghosts had been waiting for that
moment when I took in a full breath of air. They were inside me now, there was
no reason to fight them.
I begged to be allowed to go home, to be with Carol Ann, but Mama kept a firm
grip on my arm while I cried. Folks thought I was grieving for Mrs. O’Leary.
I was grieving for myself.
Mama decided homemade ice cream was just as good as the Dairy Dip, after all.
One day a massive storm came through. The trunks of the trees were black with
wet, the leaves an emerald bas-relief to the long boned branches. Storms frightened
me; the ferocity of the winds, the booming thunder felt like it was tearing apart
my very soul. Carol Ann and I had taken refuge in my room. She rubbed my stomach,
trying to calm me, crooning under her breath. Nothing was working; I was shaking
and sweating, a low moan escaping my lips every once in a while. Carol Ann was
at a loss. She stood, leaving me on the floor, and went to the window.
“Come away from there, Carol Ann.” My voice sounded panicky, even
to me. She turned and smiled.
“Don’t be a goose, Lily. What, do you think the wind’s going
to suck me right out that window?”
A flash of lightning lit up the room and the thunder shook the house. I whimpered
in response, my eyes begging her to come back to me. She turned and stared out
the window, ignoring my pleas.
Then she whirled around, a wide smile on her heart-shaped face. “I have
an idea. Let’s be blood sisters.”
“Blood sisters? What’s that?”
“What? You’ve never been blood sisters with anyone before, Lily?
My goodness, where have you been hiding all these years?”
“There’s no one to be sisters with, Carol Ann. You know that.” I
felt vaguely superior for a moment, but she ended that.
“We need a knife.”
“My Lord in heaven, Lily, how do you think we’re going to get at
So I snuck out of my room, slunk down the stairs, gripping each with my toes
so the wind didn’t whisk me away when it tore the roof off the house. The
storm was loud enough that Mama didn’t hear me go into the kitchen, get
a Henckels Pro from the rack next to the stove, and make my way back up the stairs
into my room. Carol Ann’s eyes lit up when she saw the blade.
“Give that to me.”
I did, a sense of wrongness making my hand tremble. I think I knew deep in my
heart that Mama wouldn’t want me becoming blood sisters with anyone, no
matter what the course of action that led me there. But that was Carol Ann for
you. She could always convince me to see things her way.
Carol Ann took one of my sheer cotton sweaters, a red one, and laid it over the
lamp, so the room became like thin blood. We sat in the middle of the floor,
Indian-style, facing each other. She made sure our legs were touching. I was
“Okay. Stop fretting. This will only hurt for a second, then it will all
be over. You still want to be my blood sister, right?”
I swallowed hard. “I think so.”
“You think? Now, Lily, what did I say about you thinking? That’s
what I’m here for. I do the thinking for both of us, and everything always
turns out just fine. Now quit being such a baby and give me your arm. Your right
I didn’t want Carol Ann to think I was a baby. I held out my arm, which
only shook for a second.
Carol Ann was mumbling something, an incantation of sorts. Then she held up the
knife and smiled. “With this blade I christen thee.” She ran the
blade along the inside of her right arm, bright red blood blooming in the furrow.
She smiled and took my arm. “Say it,” she hissed.
“With this blade I christen thee.” She drew the knife along my arm
and I almost fainted when I saw the blood, dark red, darker than Carol Ann’s.
Then she took my arm and her arm and held them together.
“Our blood mingles, and we become one. You are now as much Carol Ann as
I am, and I am as much Lily as you are. We are one, sisters in blood. Quick,
we need to tie this together, let our blood flow through each others veins.”
She grabbed a sock off the floor and wound it around our arms, then beckoned
me to lie down. I put my head in her lap, my arm stretched awkwardly and tied
to hers, and she held me as our blood became one. I felt at peace. The ferocity
of the storm seemed to lessen, and I felt calm, sleepy even.
LILY!” The scream made me jump. It was Mama. She saw what Carol Ann and
I had done. I didn’t get to see Carol Ann the rest of that muggy summer.
Mama sent me away to a white place that smelled of antiseptic and urine. I hated
I came back from the white place in the fall, quieter than before. The leaves
were red and orange and brown, the skies were crisp and blue. I was worried that
Carol Ann may have moved away, the drive was empty across the street, the window
dark. When I asked Mama, she told me to quit it already. No more talk of Carol
Ann. I wasn’t allowed to see her, to play with her, anymore.
I went back to school that year. Mama had been keeping me home before, teaching
me herself, but she figured I needed to be around more girls and boys my age.
I was so happy that she did, because Carol Ann was there. She had moved, but
only a couple of streets over. She was attending the Junior High, just like I
was. We didn’t exactly pick up where we left off. Carol Ann had many other
But I’d catch her watching me, on the periphery of her group of devotees,
and wink at me in welcome. Those moments warmed my heart and soul. She was still
my Carol Ann.
Our school year progressed without incident until Carol Ann came up with a new
game. The pass-out game. Every girl in school wanted to be a part of it. We’d
line up in the bathrooms, stand with our backs against the wall, hold our breath
until the world got spinny. Carol Ann would cover our hearts with her hands and
push. Hard. We’d pass out cold, some sliding down the walls, some keeling
over. Carol Ann reasoned that it stopped our hearts for a moment, and that’s
why the teachers got so upset when they found out.
Of course, they found out when I was doing the heart pushing on a seventh-grader
named Jo. I got suspended, and the fun stopped. No more pass out game. No more
Carol Ann, at least until I wasn’t grounded any more.
They rezoned us for ninth grade, decided we were big enough to go to high school.
I had to take the bus, which I normally hated, because it drove past the Johnson’s
farm, and their copse of pine trees with the hanging man in them. I knew it wasn’t
a real dead man, but the branches in one of the trees had died, and they drooped
brown against the evergreen, arms, legs, torso and broken neck. Mama used to
drive me to Doctor Halloway this route, ignoring my requests to go the long way
past Tappy’s place. I hated this road as a young girl, just knew the Hanging
Man would get out of that tree and follow me home.
When the bus would pass it by, I’d try not to look. Since I was a little
older now, it wasn’t so bad in the daylight. But as winter came along and
the days shortened, the hanging man waited for me in the dusky gloom.
The next year, Carol Ann started taking the bus. Life got better. She was only
on it some days, because she had a lot of dates now. Most days, after school,
I’d watch Carol Ann riding off in cars with shiny, clean boys, throwing
a grin over her shoulder as they faded into the gloaming. But there were times
that she come out of the school, clothes rumpled, mouth red and raw, and jump
on the bus just before it pulled away from the curb.
We sat together in the back, those idyllic days, talking about boys and teachers,
the upcoming dances and who was doing it. I was fascinated by sex, though I’d
never experienced it. Carol Ann had – you could tell that about her. She
promised to tell me all about it, every gory detail. She never did.
Carol Ann snuck vodka from her parent’s house and slipped it into her milk
some mornings. She’d share the treat with me, and we’d get boneless
in the back of the bus, giggling our fool heads off. One day she taught me how
to make a homemade scar tattoo, using the initials of a boy I liked. I watched
while Carol Ann mutilated herself, took the eraser end of a pencil and ran it
up and down her arm a million times until a shiny raw burn in the shape of a
J appeared. When she handed the pencil to me, I tore at my skin until a misaligned
M welled blood. I have that M to this day. I don’t remember which boy it
The bus driver, Mrs. Bean, caught us with the vodka-laced milk. Carol Ann wasn’t
allowed to ride the bus anymore, was expelled from school, exorcised by the administrators.
I didn’t see her as much after that. I think the school and Mama really
did their best to keep us apart. It was probably a wise decision.
Even though I grew up, got some distance on my childhood, got away from Carol
Ann, I still was captivated by memories. Spilling on Carol Ann’s bike,
scraping the length of my thigh on the gravel. The year she pushed me into the
cactus while we were trick-or-treating. The day she nearly drowned when she fell
through the ice on Gideon’s Lake, and I laughed watching her panic before
I went to help. Carol Ann did nothing but get me in trouble, and I was happy
to leave her behind as an adult.
Mama had to go into a home over in Spring Hill a couple of years back. I chose
it because they had nice flowerbeds, and I visited her often. We’d walk
amongst the flowers and she’d remind me of all the terrible things I did
when I was a kid, and sometimes we’d laugh. No one thought I’d ever
grow out of my awkward stage, but I did. I went off to college and everything.
Carol Ann went to a neighboring school. I’d see her every once in a while,
working as a waitress in one of the coffee shops on campus, or shopping in the
bookstore. I learned that it was best to ignore her. If I ignored her enough,
she’d get the hint and leave.
After school, I moved back home to live in the A-Frame house I grew up in. I
lived a quiet, uneventful life. I was a landscape artist. I built gardens for
the children of Mama’s garden club friends. I was almost happy.
Late one evening, I was shocked and surprised when the doorbell rang, and Carol
Ann was on my front step. I’ll remember that moment forever, that nagging
sense that somewhere, deep inside me, something was very dreadfully wrong.
I hadn’t seen her in years, yet she’d come to my door, in the flesh,
with rain streaming down her face. Her blond hair was shorter, wet through, darker
than I remembered. She was a skinny thing, not the radiant beauty I remembered
from my childhood.
I remembered freezing at the door, unsure of what to do. She knew better than
to come calling, that was strictly forbidden. We’d laid those ground rules
years before, and she’d always listened. I was saved by the phone ringing.
I glared at her and motioned for her to stay right where she was. Carol Ann was
not invited into my house. Not after what she did all those years ago. It had
taken me a long time to get over that.
The phone kept trilling, so I’d turned and went to the marble side table
in the foyer, the one that held the old fashioned phone. I’d picked it
up, almost carelessly. It was Mama’s nurse at the Home. I listened. Felt
the floor rushing up to meet me. Everything went dark after that.
When I woke, the sun was streaming in the kitchen window. Somehow I’d gotten
myself to a chair. I remember there was coffee brewing, the rich scent wafting
to my nose. Carol Ann stood at the counter, a yellow cup in her hands. She took
a deep drink, then smiled at me.
“Hey, yourself,” I replied. “You’re not supposed to be
“You needed me.” She’d shrugged, a lock of lank blond falling
across her forehead. “I’m sorry about your Mama. She was a good woman.”
I had a vision of Mama then, standing in the same spot, her hair in curlers,
rushing to finish the preparations for a garden club meeting, stopping to lean
back and take a sip of hot, sweet tea and smiling to herself because it was perfect.
She was perfect. Not flawed and messy like me. My heart hurt.
I did what I had to do. “Carol Ann, you need to leave. I don’t need
you. I never did.”
“C’mon, Lily. We’re blood sisters, you and I. We’re a
physical part of each other. How can you say you don’t need a part of yourself?
The best part of yourself?”
NO!” I screamed at her, all patience gone. “You are not a part of
me. You aren’t…”
There was only one way to get through to her. I grabbed the porcelain mug from
her hand, smashed it on the counter, and swiped it across her perfect white throat.
She fell in a heap, blood everywhere.
As I stood over her, watching her hair turn strawberry, I felt a tug and looked
down at my leg. Carol Ann was trying to grab a hold of my foot. I kicked her
instead. She stopped moving then.
The thought is fleeting. What have I done?
I’ve just killed Carol Ann. She was never sweet, never innocent. She was
a leech, an albatross around my neck. I didn’t need her. Carol Ann needed
me. That’s what Doctor Halloway always told me. That’s what they
said in the hospital too. They told me I’d know when the time was right
to get rid of Carol Ann once and for all. Mama would be so proud.
The blood drips, drips, drips from my arm. I feel lighter already.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.T. Ellison is a thriller writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Her short stories have appeared in Demolition Magazine and Flashing
in the Gutters, and she received an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s
Digest 2006 Popular Fiction Contest. Her first novel,ALL THE PRETTY
GIRLS , is due out
from Mira Books in November 2007. Ellison blogs at Murderati and
is a founder of Killer
on her work can be found at www.JTEllison.com.
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