I’ve already said it once, but I can’t help it when it slips out again.
The apology sounds disturbingly wrong because even though I said it, I hear it in her voice. I hate the sound of those words coming from her lips as it reminds me of everything I’ve just done. It floats heavily in the air and sinks into the unmarked grave at my feet.
“I really am sorry,” I say again, just to dig the knife a little deeper because I know I deserve as much.
For late autumn it’s unseasonably warm. Fallen pine needles crunch under my dirt caked boots as I shift from foot to foot. It’s a little too sunny for a funeral, I think to myself. I know she would find the lack of a dramatic downpour in the wake of her tragic passing insulting at best as I stand over her final resting place. I hate that I know that.
I know everything about her now.
Lara who had to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lara whose body I just buried in the middle of some shady forest, far from where anyone will find her remains.
Lara whose face I now wear.
“I hate this.” I say it out loud because it’s the truth. I hate that this is my life now. That her life is my life now.
She’s trembling with unbridled fury at the mere thought.
I mean I’m trembling with unbridled fury at the mere thought.
“I HATE THIS!” I repeat, shouting at the top of my lungs.
Practically throwing the shovel in my white-knuckle grip, I swing at the nearest tree as though I were holding an axe.
I can’t stop screaming as I hit the tree trunk again and again. Sharp needles rain down on me, stinging where they scratch my skin in their descent, or at least they should sting. Fortunately, I can’t feel anything at all. By the time I realize the shovel has snapped in half and I am just hitting the tree with a broken end, I am numb.
Breathless, I let the splintered wood slip from my fingers. There are tears on my new face. I know for a fact they are coming from me and not her. She never cried, not even for her own death. She was stronger than that. We are very different people. Or rather, we were. Her grave might as well be mine. Lara might live on through me, but who I was no longer exists.
Just as my previous face has been shed, I wish I could say as much about those who knew me.
So much for being far enough for no one to find me.
“How long have you been standing there Helena?” I ask without bothering to face her.
“Longer than you’d like.” Helena quips from where she leans casually against a tree.
I take a deep breath and hold it for a full ten seconds before exhaling harshly. Though she is quiet during that ten seconds I can still feel her mocking gaze sweeping over my new figure. It only bothers me a little bit.
“What are you doing here?” I finally question staring hard at the golden pine needles on the forest floor. There should be foot prints. But there aren’t any. I wonder how Helena managed to track me without tracks to follow.
I don’t take my eyes off the grave. There is no way I am ready to introduce her to my new face. To Lara.
“Just wanted to be here to experience your first Shift. I figured it would be entertaining. And it was.” She laughed. “Definitely worth it to tail you for several hours.”
I bite my tongue to keep from snapping at her. It would only add fuel to the fire. Helena has a way of igniting my temper until it burned hot enough to warm her cold heart. Already incredibly fragile, I outright refuse to let her get to me.
“Glad you enjoyed the show Helena.” I bit out.
“It was my pleasure.” I bet she said that with a sick smile on her pretty face.
A beat passes where we don’t speak. She continues to observe me while I continue to stare despondently at the loose dirt in front of me. For a moment I am allowed to wallow in my guilty conscience and mourn my previous life.
A mild wind rustles through the trees, birds sing in the distance, and it is peaceful.
Then Helena decides to shatter the peace by speaking up. “I don’t know why you seem so sullen,” she scoffs, crossing her arms. “She died so you could live. That’s simply the way it is.”
I sigh. “There’s nothing simple about it.”
“Sure there is.”
Clenching my fists, I try to remind myself how long Helena has been looking out for me.
It only proves to remind me what a pain she has always been. Despite the many faces I’ve seen her wear, she never changes. That’s sort of how I’ve always been able to recognize her.
“Don’t tell me ‘it’ll get easier over time’. I don’t want to hear it. Not right now.”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, stop being dramatic. You’ll get over this.”
“This” being stealing a woman’s appearance, killing her, and then burying her body deep in the woods. I almost laugh out loud at her nonchalance.
I wasn’t there for her first Shift. I never knew who she started out as. I can only assume that over time she grew colder and colder into the ice queen she is today. Part of me wonders if I’ll end up the same way after what I’ve done.
“Elizabeth, you’ll have to get over this since you’ll be doing this the rest of your life,” she teases.
How right she is because this is my life now.
Technically I don’t have a life anymore. The only lives I have to live are the ones I steal and then inevitably bury until the next Shift.
“It’s Lara now.” I correct Helena numbly. “There is no Elizabeth.”