There are rumours that I keep a writer trapped in my basement… but I assure you… Jessica is and always was here of her own free will. Until one day she disappeared, and I began to realize that everything I thought I knew about her was wrong. Everyone has a terrifying story about Jessica B. Bell. Some of them are even true.
“Who?” Penny asked. My niece had been ignoring my frantic behaviour for the past half hour, but she finally broke her silence.
“Jessica,” I said. “She’s just… gone.”
There are rumours that I keep a writer trapped in my basement, chained to a chair, writing stories by candlelight in her own blood on dirty yellowed parchment, but I assure you, those rumours are exaggerations, darlings. Jessica is and always was here of her own free will. She’s a strange one, I’ll give you that, but I didn’t abuse her. You have to believe me.
“Where would she go?” Penny wondered. “I mean, does she have any family, or friends, or…”
I looked at Penny as if to ask what she was thinking, or rather, to remember who she was talking about.
“Right,” she shrugged. “But, you’ve got to admit, Helena, you don’t know much about her.”
“No, you’re right,” I agreed. “But why would she just leave?”
“Why did she come to you in the first place?” Penny countered.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really.
There was so much thunder that I almost didn’t hear the pounding.
I opened the door and there she was, soaking wet, her long black hair almost completely concealing her face. Her clothes – barely recognizable as such, hung off her in tatters, and the skin that showed through was marbled with the red, purple and yellow of violent bruises. In her hands, she clutched a ragged old rucksack that looked like it had been through wars.
“Help me,” she cried, her voice sounding like the raven from that Poe story, and passed out on my doorstep.
I took her in without thinking, and nursed her back to health. She didn’t speak a word for months, and when I tried to call someone for help – the police or a hospital, she threw a terrifying fit, screaming without words, wailing like a banshee, and tearing at her own skin until it bled. I don’t know why I let her stay, but she’d been with me ever since, and whether she was running from something she’d done, or hiding from something that hunted her, I was never really sure.
“So who is she, though?” Penny asked. We’d avoided talking about Jessica. I suppose I just never really wanted to know. I admit, she kind of frightened me.
“I don’t really know,” I said. “She didn’t have any I.D. on her, and the only name she gave me was Jessica – I added that B. Bell stuff later when I started publishing her writing. I don’t know her real last name – and you want to know what’s weird? I don’t think she does, either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, whatever it was that happened to her – whatever brought her to my doorstep – it must have been truly awful. She’s never spoken of it, of course, but I get the feeling whatever happened to her, well, it might be happening still.”
“Do you think people are looking for her?” Penny asked in alarm.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, did she take all her things? Maybe she left a note or something?”
I looked at Penny again and shrugged. Jessica didn’t have much in the way of possessions.
“I found this,” I said, holding up a beat up old book. It was leather bound and looked very old. I flipped through it and saw a couple different peoples’ handwriting, as well as newspaper clippings, and what looked like excerpts from a medical report.
“What is it?” Penny asked. “Do you think it’s hers?”
“Must be,” I said.
“Well, what’s it say?”
WHAT DOES IT SAY???