Alice didn't move. She wasn't seeing the photo, her eyes too blurred with tears. She was aware of a weight, stifling and heavy, pressing down on her, her legs leaden and rooted to the floor as if caught and held there.
She smelled again the smell of new wood, raw and rough under her hand. Of how she'd raced, catching the stair-post and swinging, thumping up the stairs. How excited she'd been, to see her new room. To see the walls splashed with light that rippled, the sunshine reflected from the waves. To look out breathless over the sea surging under white, winter foam.
She'd sat on those stairs, on the rough wood. She'd crept down at night and sat, hugging the shadow's line, bare foot and shivering, listening to the rise and fall of the voices below.
Picking purple asters in the fringes around the garden, their heads heavy with yellow crowns, petals like thin fingers. Nettles and sticky summer heat rising from the dusty path.
The clock was an anchor, bringing her back to herself.
Tick tick tick
"Someone knows," she thought. "Oh god, someone knows! Who is it?"
She turned the photo over but there was nothing. And now...
What? You'll have to wait, the voice said. You''ll enjoy that. You deserve it! You stupid, stupid woman. Did you think you were safe? Did you?
You never knew, you never stayed did you? You ran, like the hopeless freak that you are. Poor little Alice, crying in the corner. All afraid. Who's gonna help you now?
It cackled, the laugh of a witch in a movie, gleeful and malicious.
"No!" Alice said. "Stop it!"
Stop it! Stop it! it mocked, laughed again as if this was the best joke it had ever heard. You won't be laughing little Alice. You'll be screaming. Oh, I can't wait, it's so delicious! When he comes. When he comes. Oh, I can hear him now, coming down the path. Is that the ticking of the clock? Is that the beat of your heart? Or is it footsteps.
Someone knows you. Someone knows what you did. And you know who that someone is, don't you? Who'll be the puppet this time?
"I was free!" Alice cried. "I was free - I got away."
"I got away!"
No, you never got away.
Never never never never never