A Merciful Secret(9)

By: Kendra Elliot

“Did you hear anything? Did your grandmother call out to you?

The girl sniffed and ran her forearm under her nose, risking a glance at Bolton. “No. I used the bathroom and went in her room because I heard her chanting and it didn’t sound right. It sounded like she couldn’t breathe.”

“Did you ask her what happened at that point?”

“I don’t think so. I could see the cuts, but I didn’t know what to do.”

“Wasn’t it dark? How could you see?”

“She sleeps with a tiny lamp on all night. She says it keeps away the bad spirits.”

Mercy remembered the hurricane lamp and how she hadn’t been able to turn on the lights. “How come the lights in the home don’t work, Morrigan?”

“Some of them do. We just need to buy more bulbs. Mom keeps forgetting.”

“You said your mother was out of town,” said Bolton. “But you don’t know when she’s coming back, right?”

The girl nodded.

“Where do you go to school, Morrigan?” asked Mercy.

“I’m homeschooled. My grandmother teaches me . . . taught me.” Her face crinkled up and fresh tears flowed.

“Do you have other relatives close by?” Bolton asked.

Morrigan shook her head. “There’s just us.”

“But you have cousins or aunts and uncles that live somewhere else, right?” suggested Mercy.

“No, it’s just us.”

Mercy met Bolton’s gaze. None? She filed the question away to ask Morrigan’s mother when she showed up. If she showed up. Mercy was having her doubts about a woman who left no way for her daughter to reach her. She knew Bolton had tried the cell number several more times and sent texts to the number. No response.

Did something happen to her mother?

“What about your father?” asked Bolton.

“I don’t have a father,” Morrigan answered simply.

She and Bolton exchanged another look. “Did you used to have one?” she asked.

“No. I never have. Mom said she and Grandma were all I needed. We make a complete family.” She wiped her nose with her sleeve again, and both Mercy and Bolton checked their pockets for tissues. Mercy found a coffee shop napkin and held it out to Morrigan.

“I don’t need that,” Morrigan said with another sleeve wipe.

“Take it,” she said firmly. Morrigan took the napkin and held it in her lap.

“Morrigan,” said Bolton. “Something very sharp was used to make those cuts. Did you see a knife when you went in your grandma’s room? Maybe on the floor or on the quilt?”

The girl thought for a second. “No.”

“How do you think your grandmother got cut?” Mercy asked cautiously, waiting for her to mention the room full of knives.

“Someone cut her.”

“Then that means someone was in your house last night. Do you have any ideas who that could be?” asked Bolton.

Morrigan’s eyes widened. “Mom is always telling Grandma to keep the doors locked. She never does. And now she’s dead!” she wailed, turning her face into Mercy’s coat again.

Mercy hugged her tight and rested her cheek against the top of her head, trying to avoid her own tears. “It’s okay, Morrigan. Everything is going to be okay,” she said softly, knowing the girl’s life would never be the same. Her world appeared to be very small, making the loss of her grandmother a greater tragedy. Mercy wished she could shield her from the pain. Where is her mother?

“She told me she’d be okay,” she muttered into her coat.

“Who told you that?” Mercy asked.

“Grandma. When I didn’t know what to do last night . . . she told me she’d be okay. But I knew she was wrong! Her spells don’t always work.”

There’s that word again.

“She does spells?” Mercy asked carefully. “Last night you said that’s what she was chanting when I couldn’t understand her.”

“I don’t understand the words either. Mom says I have to wait until I’m thirteen to learn.”

Bolton raised a brow, meeting Mercy’s gaze. I don’t know what to think.

“What made you decide to run out to the road?” Bolton asked. “It was awfully dark and cold.”

“I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t help her, so I needed to find someone who could. I know the woods and can’t get lost even in the dark. If a car didn’t stop, I was going to walk to someone’s house.”

“Whose house?” Mercy asked, knowing there were few homes in the area.

“Any house. I don’t know anyone’s name, but they’d me help, right?” She looked up at Mercy. “But I heard your engine before I reached the road, so I ran faster. I didn’t know if I’d make it to the road before you passed.”

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