There Is No Happiness Here
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
©2023 - All rights held by the author
“There’s been a murder!”
Ms. Adams shrill, panicked shriek cut through the slow air of the October morning. The pit of Vessa’s stomach dropped to her feet, and her hands slipped on the bag she had been holding, the books tumbling out over the ground. Everyone else around her looked just as shocked, the air freezing until it broke into a thousand pieces.
Vessa scooped all of the books back into her tote carelessly, rushing onto the street and disappearing back into the wave of people congregating around Ms. Adams.
“I don’t know, I just found it! Someone call the police! Or 911! Or the hospital!” Someone tried to pat her on the shoulder, a lame attempt at consolation. Eventually, Ms. Adams started to calm down, and she was able to talk to the police. No, she didn’t know who the victim was. No, she didn’t know who could have done this. No, she was not a murderer, and the mere fact that they were insinuating that she did kill the poor thing was a reflection on all of the shortcomings of modern life and society. Vessa hung around at the edge of the crowd until her father pulled her aside and into the car, towards home.
“Listen, Ves, darling. Your mother and I…we’d like to talk,” her father said as soon as she walked into the house after the whole Ms. Adams’ spectacle. Lovely. A chat. What have they found out about now? Her mother led her into the living room, where they sat ramrod-straight in the couch across from the armchair she chose. Anxiety was slowly winding its way through Vessa’s insides as her mother cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
“The police just called me, love. They’ve retrieved the body from Ms. Adams yard an-and identified it.” Vessa relaxed slightly, leaning back in her chair. I thought this was something bad! I thought they had found out that I’d been sneaking out. “It was a teenage girl, with black hair, and she was wearing a red dress.” What? No, it can’t be- “it was Mina. Mina was murdered.” No.
Vessa had been lying on her back in her room for two hours, but she hadn’t cried yet. Time felt like it was slipping away from her in smooth, liquid strokes and it sickened her. Mina. Dead. Vessa rolled onto her side, staring at the dust bunnies and old school books under her bed. Her carpet was scratchy and worn under her cheek, and she squeezed her eyes shut, willing her heart to stop racing. God, Mina. What happened? Who killed you?
When Vessa cracked her eyes open, she was staring at a pair of beat-up old brown boots, with dirty yellow laces that were coming out of their knot on the left one. Those were Mina’s boots. She loved those shoes, wearing them everywhere she could, to school, to the store, even in the house when she forgot to take them off. Vessa scrambled to a sitting position, looking up from the boots to the ripped silver leggings to the knee-length, spaghetti-strapped, strawberry colored dress with a thin black belt around her waist. She, for the person was definitely a teenage girl, had long black hair in a braid with a silver hair tie around the end of it. The braid had to be at least a day old, as bits of dark hair haloed her head and made her braid look vaguely fuzzy.
She had a heart shaped face with bright green eyes and a slightly mischievous quirk about her mouth. She had tiny silver stars dangling from her ears, and a matching one on a chain around her neck. Vessa knew what they looked like, seeing as she had made them for Mina three years ago.
“Mina?! You-you’re dead, right?” The girl-Mina Hopkin, 16 years old and Vessa’s best friend of 12 years, blinked and tilted her head to the side.
“I’m not sure, Vess. I think…I know I’m dead. But-“ Vessa jumped to her feet, her left foot tingling as the blood rushed back into it.
“You’re a ghost?!” Mina winced, wringing her hands together, her gold nail polish glittering in the light from Vessa’s overhead fan.
“I don’t know. My actual de-death is all fuzzy, but I was taking a walk in the woods this morning and someone else was there and I could see them, but not their face, an-and then I was standing next to my own bod-body, and my parents were crying, and I didn’t know why they were crying, cause I was fine! But my body was covered in blood, and my parents didn’t see me o-or anything, and God, was I scared, and-“ Vessa held up a hand, mind stumbling to catch up with Mina’s train of thought.
“Wait, you saw your-the person who did this to you? Who was it?” Mina rolled her eyes, a motion that was so familiar to Vessa that it erased any doubt in her mind that the person standing in her bedroom was Mina.
“You can say my murderer. I don’t care.” Vessa swallowed, taking a deep breath before continuing.
“Okay. Your…murderer. Do you know who they are?” Mina pressed her lips together, tapping her fingernails on her legs over and over in a pattern, thinking.
“I couldn’t make him out properly,” she said, chewing on the inside of her mouth. “But, I know that he was a dude because he spoke. He said something, but I can’t remember what it was. His face is all blurry as well. I can remember where I. was, though. In the woods, on the walking path. Right near that twisty tree, you know? Then, I was being dragged somewhere else.” Vessa dragged a hand through her hair, pulling her desk chair over so she could sit in it, facing Mina.
“What if we went to the place where you were…ya know.” Mina crossed her arms, thinking hard about Vessa’s proposal.
“It could work, I guess. We’d have to go at night, so your parents wouldn’t notice.” Am I really about to agree to this? To follow the ghost of my best friend into the woods where she got murdered at night to try and figure out who murdered her? If I actually-
“Let’s do it.”
Vessa swung her legs over the sill of her window, jumping down and dusting her hands off on her knees. Mina floated down beside her, gazing out across Vessa’s lawn with dispassionate eyes. She led the way towards the tree line, glowing slightly as she did so. Once they were in the forest and the moon wasn’t as helpful, Vessa clicked on her flashlight, shining it on the ground as she walked next to Mina. They were silent for a while, the only sound leaves and crickets and the occasional hoot from an owl. Eventually, they came across the path, and Mina winced slightly.
“Yup, it’s right here. I was walking along here, and he…grabbed me.” She shivered, as if she could feel the wind that was brushing through the forest in wide, chilly sweeps. Vessa reached over to Mina, intending to touch her shoulder, but Mina’s skin was cold, and if Vessa pressed in, her hand seemed to pass right through. The twisted tree was right in front of them. Vessa could see a faint trail through the forest floor, and her stomach flopped. She threw up, her mouth flooding with bitterness.
“Mina, this is where you died. I don’t know if I can…” Mina’s hand slammed over Vessa’s mouth, and she recoiled at the taste of her palm; like formaldehyde and dirt, even though her body hadn’t been embalmed yet.
“Shut it, Vess! I can hear someone!” Sure enough, there were light, rustling footsteps to her left, and a thunk as the person swung something into a tree. Vessa was frozen in place, fear curling in the pit of her stomach. Mina yanked at her arm, trying to pull her up, but Vessa couldn’t move. I have to go. I have to leave. I need to run.
She jumped up, running blindly through the woods. Mina shouted after her, clearly not heeding her own instruction to be silent. Vessa tore through the woods, tripping over roots and sliding through the detritus that was piled on the dirt. Her breath came in sharp gasps and her side was hurting, but she didn’t care. She didn’t know where she was going, but she had to leave. She was going to go home and climb back through the window and go home. Sleep, and wake up, and realize that this was all a horrible dream and that Mina was alive and her body wasn’t in the morgue, and nothing was going wrong. Everything was fine and the leaves weren’t slipping from underneath her flip-flopped feet, the night air wasn’t ripping her hair from her ponytail, crickets weren’t screaming all around her. Nothing was wrong and there wasn’t a murderer probably after her. There was a blurry shape in front of her, a cabin.
Vessa pushed the door open and slammed it shut, tears pricking at her eyes. The cabin was dark, with furniture covered in dusty white cloths, and the floorboards were uneven and nails stuck out from the warped wood. Everything hurt and Vessa was terrified. Plus, the building smelled off, like there was a dead animal buried beneath the foundation, not deep enough that it didn’t make its presence known, but deep enough for plausible deniability. She licked her lips pressing her hands into the door.
“Mina?” Her voice was hoarse, as if she had been screaming for the past five hours straight. Mina appeared in front of her instantly, pressing her hands into Vessa’s shoulders.
“Look at me Vess. You need to get out of here. It’s not safe. Trust me, please.” Vessa looked up, staring into Mina’s face. She nodded, wiping her face with the back of her hand and nodding again. Vessa turned around, trying to yank the door open. It was stuck, the handle rattling. Mina cursed under her breath, trying to slam her shoulder into the door. Vessa pushed away, tripping over a side table, sending it down to the floor in a crash. The heel of Vessa’s hand landed on one of the floorboards, and she cried out, a splinter digging deep into her flesh. Mina rushed to her side, but stopped, brushing her fingers against the floorboard.
“Vessa. Can you wrench the other end of this?” Vessa nodded, shoving the couch to the side to get enough room. The wood was old and worn, but this board came up easily, as if it had been opened and closed a lot, and recently. Inside of the secret hideaway, there were two dark lumps, one slightly larger than the other. Vessa somehow hadn’t dropped her flashlight, but had turned it off once she started running. She clicked it on, but immediately turned it off once she saw what was inside.
Mina had no qualms about reaching her hand into the hole and pulling out the larger lump. She held it up to the window, where cold moonlight filtered weakly through the trees.
“This is…my heart. I remember-he cut it out.” Vessa’s stomach turned, and she gagged, looking away.
“Mina? How can you ho-hold that, it’s your heart, he…” Vessa pressed the heel of her hand into her forehead. Mina lowered the lump of flesh and muscle, staring at Vessa in the low light with eyes that were full of horror and wonder.
“Do I scare you, Vess? Do I frighten you with my impossibility?” Vessa shook her head, any words she might have said dying in her throat.
“Of course not, Mina. You’re my best friend, you could never scare me,” she lied, the word dropping like stones in the dusty air. Mina had absolutely scared her before, like that time where she had punched a classmate in the nose because he had been following her around. The look on her face after that was etched into Vessa’s mind forever; the coldness, and then a raw satisfaction as she watched the child cry. Mina, the ghost or apparition of Mina scoffed, her eyebrows dipping down until they practically touched.
“No, Vessa. You’re scared of me. You’re absolutely terrified of me because you don’t understand me, and you have to understand everything in your life, don’t you? You have to know everything about everyone, that’s just how you are. A normal, sane person wouldn’t have followed their hallucinations into the woods where a known murderer is lurking.” Vessa’s heart thudded in her chest, so loud she knew Mina could hear it.
“Mina, you’re my best friend, and I’d do anything for you.”
“Even when It’s dangerous and you might die?”
“Especially then. I might get to join you, after all.” Mina opened and closed her mouth, then let out a strangled noise of frustration.
“You aren't supposed to say that, Vess! You’re supposed to look at me and say, ‘Well, you’re dead. I’m going to go tell my family and see a psychologist.’ You aren’t supposed to go along with me!” Vessa smiled, but she knew it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Mina,” she said, reading out to take the heart from Mina’s hand, the cold, damp weight of it nearly making her gasp. “I’ve never been good at doing what I’m meant to. And if you’re not a ghost, and you’re just a hallucination, my subconscious did a damn good job of rendering you.”
Suddenly, the door slammed open, letting in a gust of freezing cold air. The man that walked in eclipsed all light, his face in profile a collection of sharp, jagged lines framed by oily, lank hair. He closed the door behind him with a grace that was the opposite of how he had opened the door. He glanced over to Vessa as he took off his large, puffy jacket and something that might have been a smile crossed his face.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to kill you. The girl got too close, and that other heart,” he gestured to the slightly smaller lump in the secret area. “Well, that other heart came from a former employer. I was told to kill him, so I did! Simple.” Vessa swallowed around her fear. She put Mina’s heart down, standing up slowly.
“Why did you kill her?” The man smiled ever so slightly, and Vessa’s was more scare in these few languid seconds than she had ever been.
“Her eyes. They were so dark, like voids. It unnerved me, and I simply had to do it.” He said it so plainly, as if it was nothing, but when he turned, Vessa could see his eyes clearly for the first time, and they were crazy. One of them was the palest blue she had ever seen, and one was dark as a freshly brewed cup of coffee. She opened her mouth to say something, but he held up a finger, cocking his head to one side.
“Shhh, shhh. Do you hear that?” Vessa couldn’t hear anything except for the cracking of the wind outside and the faint chirping of crickets. She shook her head mutely, hands shaking at her sides. The man shook his head and started to pace in the entryway, back and forth, still shaking his head as if there was a difficult math problem he needed to solve.
“No, no, I thought I got rid of it! I thought when I moved it would be over! Can I have no peace?” Vessa backed up until her back was up against the window, which was open.
“Um, got rid of what?” The man stopped moving and stared at her with those eyes, every muscle in his body tense and alert.
“The noise, kid! The beating! The thumping! It’s here, right underneath the floorboards. The hearts…” he dissolved into muttering and pulling at his hair. While he was preoccupied, Vessa climbed onto the window and jumped out, leaving the madman and his hearts.
She told her parents. What else could she do? They were mad at her, but that wasn’t their fault. The man for the cabin was convicted of first degree murder, and he confessed to it all. Oddly enough, Vessa’s parents looked at her with confusion and pity whenever she mentioned Mina being there, but they probably chalked it up to lack of sleep or something. They could create their own conclusions.
Mina was there, and it was as if she never left. This new Mina wasn’t as warm, and smelled like chemicals and dirt, but Vessa could look past that. She learned to keep Mina a secret, because everyone thought that Mina was actually dead, and looked at Vessa in odd ways when she talked about Mina. People started to pull away from Vessa, but she didn’t care about them. She had Mina. That was all she needed. All she had ever needed.
The rest of the world could go away, because when it was her and Mina, nothing mattered. They never talked about the man in the woods,and it was better that way, because Vessa could pretend that everyone else was wrong, then. Mina never died. Mina’s heart had never been cut from her chest and hidden underneath floorboards in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Vessa could ignore things, like the way Mina didn’t smile as much, or her skin looked waxed and stretched in the right light, or that her breath smelled like maggots and rot instead of mint. She could ignore all of that because it was Mina. Nothing would be too hard for her, if it was Mina. They were best friends forever, after all.