Artemis hated her name. She hated that it sounded nothing like her, she hated that she didn't fit it, and most of all, she hated the rise that other children got out of it. Growing up, she wasn't one of the popular children among her fellow peers. Being called Farty-Arty throughout elementary only furthered her social awkwardness. It would only be until today, that she realized why she had been given that name.
Arty walked home, alone everyday from school, as a social pariah would. She had no friends, but few acquaintances. Those who actually talked to her were neither in any of her classes, nor lived near her. She was completely detached from the world.
Artemis was content with this, loneliness had never bothered her. She needed only one person to hear her scream, but that was a wish that would never be granted.
Her straight legged jeans had been worn and ripped, and she had been squeezing into them for the past two years. She couldn't let Amelia worry about her anymore, she was too old and fragile to go out and about shopping for Arty's clothes. So Arty left it up to herself. She would try as hard as possible to stay the same size. She had bought the jeans in the eighth grade, and now being a junior in high school, they still fit. They hugged her waist a little too tight, but that was a minor problem. Arty was skinny, a lot slimmer than most girls she knew, and not at all agile. She couldn't hit a ball, so much as she could hit a fly. That was also another factor that her attacker had noticed.
She had stringy black hair that hung around her shoulders. Her face was pretty, but it had been hidden by thick-rimmed glasses. Her worn down Chucks had a hole on the side that was tearing more and more each day. Shoes that weren't good for running, at all.
And so, Arty continued through the narrow alleys of her hometown of Greenwood, Indiana. Nothing new today, except for the different smells coming from her neighbor's kitchen. Sometimes they invited her and Amelia over for dinner, and desert as well. Mrs. Mable knew how to cook very well, and it was something Artemis meant to ask her about. Since Amelia had been bedridden, she hadn't wanted to put her under any more pressure than she already was.
She followed the paved cement pathway to her first floor home, her shabby little apartment that had been hers for about four years. Artemis had been in and out of foster homes throughout Indiana since she was about three. Her real family, wherever they might be, had left her in the care of a young couple who had just been married only three months before. They weren't exactly thrilled with what they were offered, or the fact that she was about a year too early. Still, Arty lived with them until she was five years old, and they had a new child. Then it was on to a man with a lot of books, and a large long-haired cat with piercing green eyes that glowered at Arty when she would pull a book from the shelves. She stayed with Mr. Carver until he passed away. When that day came, the cat had warmed up to her, and decided to move with her to Amelia's house.
Amelia had never asked Arty anything Arty didn't want to say. She was understanding that way. She was the closest thing Arty had to a mother, and a friend in this entire world. But she was old when Arty met her, really old. She was going senile, and Arty didn't know whether to tell Child Protective Services, or say nothing at all. So holding her tongue, Arty had been living with Amelia for two years since figuring out her illness. It was wrong to keep it from everyone, but she cared for Amelia, and Amelia's monthly check kept the apartment, and food in their bellies. They would be fine.
Arty entered the living room, and smiled at Jasper, her giant cat who had cornered a spider, and swatted it with his large paws. Jasper was allowed room and board as long as he kept the creepy crawlies at bay. That, and he gave the house a mellow feeling, with his nonstop purring.
She slipped through the hallway into Amelia's room, and turned the television down from the commercials. Amelia, who had been sleeping before Artemis entered the room, awoke with a deep breath.
“Damn commercials, there's more advertisements than there is showtime.”She huffed.
Arty smiled at her and kissed her forehead.
“Have you taken your pills today, gran?” She asked, and she handed Amelia a glass of water from the nightstand with three yellow capsules on her palm.
“It doesn't make me feel any better, Natalie. I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, they don't calm me down.” She said snatching the water and pills from Arty's hand.
Natalie had been Amelia's late daughter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of twenty five, and bared a striking resemblance to Artemis. Give or take a few facial and body differences, they could be twins.
But what Amelia didn't know, wouldn't hurt her. She didn't have to know that Arty wasn't her daughter, and also didn't have to know that the pills made her sleep. That much, Arty could keep from her.
Arty left the room, and went to her beloved couch, the resting place she had made her own ever since she met Amelia. It was sheer comfort, and it smelled like lavender and Jasper's hair. Those, were comfort smells. Her head was in a daze from the day, her glasses were breaking again and would need repairs. She ripped off her chucks and threw them at the ground, along with her socks and ragged sweater. The carpet was clean enough that she didn't care if her clothes were lain across it. She took a deep breath and swallowed.
Tomorrow, they were coming.
Social workers did a monthly checkup, because they knew how old Amelia was. Arty didn't want to be taken away, not again. This was the closest thing she had to home since she lived with Mr. Carver. She didn't want to lose another guardian to old age. She had skid the last few inspections by the skin of her back, by bribing Amelia to play along. This time wasn't going to work.
Amelia had skipped three doctor's appointments in the last month, and they would be wondering why Arty hadn't reported it. She was as good as gone.
Arty leapt from the couch and out the front door to Mrs. Mable's home. She would avoid it if she could, but this being the last night she would probably see Amelia ever again, she wanted to make it special by cooking a good dinner. She would ask Mrs. Mable for potatoes, steak and corn. That was about as fancy as she could get, but she knew it would make Amelia happy to have a decent meal for the first time in a while. Arty was limited in culinary arts, but she was pretty decent when it came to frying and boiling food.
She walked into Mrs. Mable's apartment, and greeted her kindly. As Mrs. Mable packed the food into a bag for Arty to carry, Arty noticed something outside Mrs. Mable's apartment building. There was a young man, smoking a cigarette waiting by his car. Arty couldn't identify any facial features about him, it was far too dim outside to tell. But by the light of his cigarette, she saw his eyes glance at her for a moment. She was too dazzled to tell whether it was good or not, but by the time she looked back, he was gone. She carried the food back into her apartment, and began to cook. All the while she couldn't get her mind off the fact that his eyes looked incredibly light. But of course, that could've been the reflection of his cigarette in them.
She scraped her plate clean into the garbage, giving Jasper the few bits of meat and gristle she had left from her steak. Amelia had mustered the strength the eat at the table this evening, and she sat looking very satisfied, with a cup of water in her hand.
“That was delicious, Natalie. Thank you so much for the fine dining.”
“Don't mention it, gran.” Arty smiled and washed her hands. This would be over soon. Amelia wouldn't even live to see Arty out of high school, and it was something hard to cope with. This was the very last time she would ever spend with her beloved guardian. She sat down across the table from Amelia, and with hopeful eyes, she asked.
“Gran, if there was anything you could have in this world, what would it be?”
“I don't know sweetheart. I would say to have my Natalie back. But-” Her eyes looked at Arty again, and she shook her head. “But you're right here. That's funny.”
Arty's face had burrowed, and her eyes were dark. Amelia had done this several times in the last month. She knew who Arty was, sometimes. She knew that Natalie had been long dead for about twenty years, and that she had become a foster mother to another little girl. Every time this happened, Arty felt a little farther away from her guardian. She didn't want Amelia to think she was taking Arty in as an orphan or someone less fortunate. If Amelia thought of her as a daughter, then she wanted it. She didn't want to be more than one person.
Arty looked at the clock. It had been a quarter till 11:00pm and she still had dishes to wash. She helped Amelia to bed, and tucked her into her covers. And just as she was about to turn the light switch off, Amelia said something to her.
“Natalie, can you come here for a moment?” Her hand was extended from the bed, and Arty reached out to grab it. Amelia's wrinkled, bony fingers grasped Arty's, and held them tight. Her thin lips smiled, her eyes as well. “Natalie, you have grown up so fast, that I don't even remember when you were born.” She had forgotten a lot of things. “I want you to know, that no matter where you were when you were a child, I knew you'd be safe. Would you like to know why?”
“Why is that, gran?” Arty asked, her voice slightly hushed.
“Because you have the soul of a hunter, a fighter. You have grown up so strong, it is only a mothers greatest wish for their child to be like you when they reach maturity. And just like your father, you will be a person of great value throughout your life. Don't take the awkwardness you went through when you were a child for granted. It has only shaped you out to be the strong woman you are now. I know one day you will find acceptance, and I have been blessed with being with you these past four years.” Her smile grew softer, and she shut her eyes to sleep. Despite Amelia's praise, Arty felt nothing like any of what she had just said.
Strong indeed. But then again, she had been talking to Natalie, hadn't she? Or had she? These last four years, she said. Amelia knew it was Arty she was talking to. Somehow, it had been relevant through her eyes. But Arty continued doing what she was before, by flicking the light switch and washing the dishes. She looked at Jasper, who had nested in her clothes that still lie on the floor. She knew that any new home she was sent to most likely wouldn't accept him there either, she had lucked out with Amelia. This would be his last night of peace as well. She knew, though, that Mrs. Mable loved Jasper to her hearts content, and that she would be glad to take him in.
Arty walked over to the large window that oversaw the neighboring apartment buildings, and the small parking lot outside. There was the car that that man had been standing in front of. It hadn't moved yet. She went to open the window to catch the breeze, but caught a fowl stench instead. It smelled of rotten meat, and blood. It must've been pretty thick if she was able to smell blood outright.
Arty wasn't the type to go and investigate, so she shut the window and pulled the curtain in front of it. Whatever it was could be dealt with in the morning. She heard a faint scratching sound coming from outside, and she turned her head towards the window. She was only lucky the curtain could shield her from the shards of glass that splintered her way when it burst through, but that was the least of her problems. She wasn't even sure what “it” was, all she knew was that it was fast, it was angry, and it smelled of blood and guts. She backed into the kitchen, searching for a knife or cleaver to use as defense, but found nothing. Jasper had fled the room, but it was not him the beast had been interested in. His slick yellow gaze was fixed upon her, and he knew she was terrified. He had noticed, because he opened his large jaws to show her the teeth that resided in them.
She shivered as he cornered her, drool dripping from his lips, a scratchy growl escaped his lips. Her glasses had fallen to the floor, and her hand had succeeded in smashing them to pieces. She had no way to see now, all she could do was wait for him to attack. Arty had never been religious in her life, but right about now she wished for the best for Amelia, had the beast found her as well. And she that if she were to die right here and now, that she be salvaged from damnation, and that she be forgiven her sins.
The beast lunged at her, his fangs ripped through her throat and her shoulders, and chest. It wasn't long before Arty left this life, for an entirely new one.
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