On September first, 1939, Adolph Hitler declared war on Europe. On August eighth, 1939, a war of our own was declared by a scathing gramophone record.
I didn't think that when I said goodbye to Evelyn before boarding the train—or that when I said goodbye to Fleta and my parents on my birthday as they left— that it would be goodbye forever. I just thought it would be a standard holiday post. Oh, was I wrong. When we all arrived at Indian Island, it left me with a chill that went up and down my spine. Perhaps it was because the sea reminded me too greatly of Cyril…and Hugo…I willed myself strongly not to think of Hugo, but it was no good. I had to remember.
Perhaps it was because that after Anthony Marston's death, Hugo served as a security blanket to me. I'd keep thinking of the events that led up to my murdering Cyril. I'd think of Hugo explaining the situation to me, of Cyril's irritating protests, and—and of how I gave into these protests and allowed him to swim, and for what? So Hugo could marry the woman he loved? No…I did it so I could marry the man I loved. Selfish, selfish me. Had I known how much pain it would cause Mrs. Hamilton, or Hugo, or even me, would I still have done it? Perhaps not. But it never occurred to me as I planned it out that Cyril was a human being, a child whom Mrs. Hamilton cared deeply about. No, to me, Cyril was just a pawn in my plan to marry Hugo.
Much like how I was a pawn in the murderer's plan to drive me insane so I could complete his 'masterpiece'. I suppose the judge and I were alike in at least one way: To us, our murder victims weren't people; no, they were pawns that could easily be manipulated into doing our every bidding. How bitter irony hurts.
I had never felt so scared for my life as I had that weekend. It was the weekend from hell. Every bite, every sip, every step that I took, I kept wondering if it would be my last. Even when I locked my door at night, I still didn't feel safe. There was always the possibility that the murderer would try to enter through the window. Then again, I suppose that's exactly what the judge intended: He killed his victims according to guilt. Those whose guilt was lightest went first and didn't undergo the mental torture I faced, which was why I died last. He wanted me to suffer the most so that when he set up that trap for me, I'd gladly take it.
I wasn't even human at that point. I had become another animal in the zoo…just like Mr. Blore and Philip. When Mr. Blore was killed, Philip and I both assumed Dr. Armstrong must've done it…and then we saw his drowned body on the beach. I should've realized Philip couldn't be the murderer if he had been standing right there with me when Mr. Blore was killed. But no…my animal mind wouldn't allow me to use human logic. I thought that since Philip and I were the only ones left, and since I certainly hadn't killed anyone on the island, that it had to be Philip. And so, I acted upon my newly found animal instincts: I tricked Philip into helping me drag Dr. Armstrong's body out of the water and while we did so, I pickpocket his revolver. When the silly ass turned around, there I was, facing him with his revolver. He hesitated at first, asking me to give it back to him. I laughed. Did he really think I was stupid? And then he leaped, forcing me to shoot. I stood there for about a minute or two before I realized Philip was dead.
When I realized this, I felt enormous, exquisite relief. At last it was over. There was no more fear—no more steeling of my nerves. That I was alone with nine dead bodies didn't matter. All that mattered was that there was no more fear. I didn't move until the sun began to set. I realized then that I was hungry and sleepy. Principally sleepy. I wanted to throw myself on my bed and sleep and sleep and sleep until help arrived. Even then, I was perfectly happy staying there, now that I was safe. I thought about how strange fear was and how I had used my quick wits to turn the tables on my would-be destroyer. What I didn't realize was that my true destroyer was already in the house, waiting for me to come.
I felt sheer exhaustion as I walked up to the house, having gotten little to no sleep the night before. For a brief moment, I thought I was going to collapse before I even made it the house! When I got to the house, I briefly contemplated getting something to eat, but I was too tired even then. So, I went to the dining room. I noticed there were still three little Indian boys there, so I broke off two of them and took the last one with me upstairs. I kept thinking that Hugo was in my bedroom waiting for me. Oh, Hugo…you never were gone. No matter how many times I tried to tell myself that you were gone, that you weren't waiting for me, you were always there in my mind. I didn't feel alone in the house, no matter how quiet it was. I suppose I would've fainted had I realized that my instincts were right, that there was only one other person in the house with me—the murderer!
When I got to my room…what I saw made me gasp out loud. There was a noose and a chair all set up for me. During the times I felt suicidal after murdering Cyril, I never even thought of hanging myself. I thought of all the other suicide methods, but never hanging. Perhaps it was because I associated hanging with criminals. And that's what I was—a criminal. I wasn't the hero everyone else (save Hugo) made me out to be. I was a murderess. A child murderess, to be exact.
It's a funny word…murder. I used to think murder was strangling someone, or shooting them. It never occurred to me that murder could be words. I had killed Cyril the moment I said the seven deadly words: "You can go to the rock, Cyril." That's what the murder was! As easy as that! But afterwards…afterwards, I went on remembering.
I had already realized what I had done was murder a long time ago, but it wasn't until that moment that I truly accepted it. I suppose that if I, along with anyone else on Indian Island, survived, we would've come back as changed people. Experiences like that can completely change a person's entire perception on life and thus change them, whether it's for the better or for the worse. Had I survived, I might've changed for the better. I might've realized how Hugo was taking over my life and that I should seek professional help…but sadly, everything that could've been vanished the moment I saw the noose and the chair.
Did I think that my parents would be weeping for me as my feet moved across the floor? Did I think that Evelyn would be an emotional wreck as I climbed onto the chair? Did I think that Fleta would be crushed that I would no longer be able to attend her wedding as I put my head through the noose? Did I think that Hugo would want me to live as I adjusted the noose around my neck? No, I did not. I was only thinking of me, not how my actions would affect the people around me. I actually thought this was what Hugo wanted me to do and besides, the mental strain from my guilt was becoming too much to bear, to live with. I was being selfish, as I had been when I murdered Cyril.
It wasn't until I had already kicked away the chair that I suddenly realized that I should wait for the boat to come so I could make amends with Hugo and see my family again, but by then, it was too late. My body quickly lowered and I felt a painful tug at my neck…and then nothing at all.
Where I am can't exactly be described as Heaven or hell. I am supposedly in Heaven, but watching over my family dealing with my death felt like hell. Had it not been for my mother praying for my safety, I suppose I would've gone straight to hell. So I owe it to her. She prevented me from eternal suffering. And how did I repay her? By forcing her to go through a great amount of suffering that felt like an eternity of suffering.
Thinking of the day my family was informed of my death makes me sick. A few days after my body, and the other bodies, were taken back to the mainland, my mother, Fleta, and Evelyn each received a telegram, which informed them of my death. It said the same thing as the others did, except with a few words changed each time:
Dear Clara/Fleta Claythorne/Evelyn Barclay,
We deeply regret to inform you that sometime during the weekend of August the eighth, your daughter/cousin/sister, Vera Elizabeth Claythorne, died by hanging on Indian Island. Details are still sketchy, so we cannot confirm if it was murder or suicide, for nine other victims were found dead as well. Her funeral, as well as the other nine victims' funerals, will be held on August the twenty-second at seven-thirty PM at St. Agatha's church. We offer our deepest sympathies.
The reactions varied, but at the same time, they were all the same. My mother was shaking when she stopped reading the telegram. She kept thinking about all the fun times we shared together as I grew up, including her final goodbye to me on my twenty-fifth birthday, and finally began to cry. It was at this moment that my father came home, saying that it didn't work out in London, so he would try to set up his business here. When he noticed my mother crying, he asked what was wrong. Mother couldn't say it, so she showed my father the telegram. When I was growing up, I always thought of my father as a strong man, someone who could face the tough times head on. But not in that moment. He put the telegram down, looking and feeling like an empty shell. He wrapped his arms around my mother and comforted her, still not feeling anything himself.
Fleta was in France when she got the telegram. She couldn't believe what it was saying. She kept hoping that, perhaps, someone was playing a sick joke on her. She was interrupted by her thoughts when Matthew came up to her, asking her what was wrong. Realizing that life was short, Fleta held Matthew close and hugged him tightly as though he would die next. Sadly, Fleta could not come to my funeral because on the date, there was a huge rainstorm in Paris that kept her there for another three weeks.
And Evelyn…oh God, how it hurts even now to think of Evelyn's reaction. She kept going, "No," even though she knew it to be true. Finally, she screamed, "NO!" and completely broke down sobbing. She couldn't take care of Derek that day, so Richard took over. She was an absolute wreck.
I never wanted to make my family suffer like this, but I did. I wish I hadn't killed myself, that I had convinced myself to wait until the boat arrived and explain it all. But what's done is done.
The judge's confession was found three days before my funeral. That was when the police sent out a telegram to Hugo that explained everything. They decided to wait until our funerals to read the letter to our friends and families.
Oh Hugo…to think, I hanged myself because I thought it was what you wanted, only for me to find out it wasn't what you wanted. I should've realized that although you were furious with me for killing Cyril, you could never find it in your heart to hate me.
On the day of all our funerals, it was a rainy day. Gloomy weather for a gloomy occasion. First, the minister gave his speech about what our lives were like, only he included just the good details. For instance, he said Miss Brent was a loyal church attendant who had much belief in our Lord. What he failed to mention was that she was a cold-hearted religious zealot who didn't feel the slightest bit of guilt over poor Beatrice Taylor. And as for me…he said I was a real hero for trying to save Cyril Hamilton. Either this man wasn't shown the confession and thus didn't know the details, or knew better than to speak ill of the dead.
Second, one of the officers, Inspector Maine, read the judge's confession out loud to everyone in the church, and they all learned the truth. When he got to the part where Hugo told the judge about what I had done, I could feel Hugo's grief and anguish. I know he never meant to cause my going to Indian Island, and I hope he knows I don't hate him for it, like how he never hated me for killing Cyril.
But my family…words couldn't do justice to describe their feelings about it. I never wanted my family to find out the truth, but now they know. It's funny, you know, because if I were alive, they'd hate me upon finding out, but since I'm dead…
It was when they learned how I died that their emotions really started to get rocky: When the deaths began to be read out loud one by one, shrieks and moans of anguish were heard throughout the church by the friends and family members of the other victims. With each death read off, my family would sit there in anxiety, waiting for my death to be read off so they could find out whose hand I was killed by: The judge's, or my own. Neither outcome was cheery to them, for if I was murdered, they'd feel an injustice that the judge got away with what he did, but if I killed myself, they'd never forgive themselves for not reaching out to me sooner; however, I think that deep down they hoped I had been murdered so they could blame someone other than themselves.
Finally, Inspector Maine came to the last death—my own: "It was an interesting psychological experiment. Would the consciousness of her own guilt, the state of nervous tension consequent on having just shot a man, be sufficient, together with the hypnotic suggestion of the surroundings, to cause her to take her own life? I thought it would. I was right. Vera Claythorne hanged herself before my eyes where I stood in the shadow of the wardrobe."
How it broke my heart to read the emotions of my family. My father thought back to when I was a child of two, and heard the following words echo in his ears: "I don't want to die, Daddy; not ever!" And my mother heard: "I promise I'll never die, not for a hundred years." This was all it took to cause my parents to break down weeping bitterly.
Evelyn, however, thought back to the day I mentioned I felt I was better off dead, and how she told me I could talk to her if I ever needed her. Suddenly, she knew she could no longer bear to be there one second longer: She let out a wail of despair before getting up and running out of the church. She ran all the way back to the car, where she spent the rest of the service weeping just as bitterly as my parents, if not more so. She kept thinking that she should've been more supportive, that she should've talked to me more often, that she should've talked to me a bit longer before I went on the train, that if she had been there more often than she was I would still be alive.
Oh, Evelyn. You were more help to me than you'll ever know. And I would've gotten better, really, I would've. But what I went through that weekend would drive even the most life-loving person in the world to take their own life, too. That weekend destroyed my will to live. It destroyed all progress I had made.
Evelyn could only bring herself to creep into the crowd and watch my coffin slowly be lowered into the ground. Her eyes didn't once leave the spot, not even when it was being filled in. She was only brought back to reality when she heard my father talking to her. He yelled at her that she hadn't shown me any respect at all by just running out during my funeral service, and she yelled back that she had shown me respect by keeping me alive in her thoughts, which was more than he was doing at the moment.
And I thought the angry words and tears were exchanged during the months leading up to Evelyn's wedding. That day, everyone said things that they wished they could take back. By the time they went home, it was almost midnight, but none of them could sleep. After that, their sleeping habits changed during the next few weeks. My mother didn't get any sleep at all, my father went to bed much earlier than he did and would sleep in until noon, and Evelyn would get only two or three hours of sleep. They were alive, but they weren't truly alive, like me when it was down to Mr. Blore, Philip, and me. There were times where Evelyn considered ending it all and joining me in Heaven, but Derek gave her the will to live. He was her only lifeline.
My mother once told me, "Everyone has a reason for existing in this world." Derek's reason might have been to cheer my family up during the most depressing time of their lives. When his very first birthday came along, my parents came over to Evelyn's house. Mother looked somewhat happier because she had made a cake for Derek (she always loved to bake). His party brought back some life into them, especially when he had blown out his candle (with the help of his father): For a moment, he stared at the cake as though he wasn't sure what these strange people wanted him to do with it. Then, he scooped up some of the frosting with his hands and smeared it in his hair. He thought it was some fancy hair gel, so he used the frosting to smooth out his hair and stuffed his face with the actual cake. My parents and Evelyn laughed the way they used to laugh before my death. My main regret is that I wasn't there in person to celebrate Derek's first birthday.
From that moment on, their lives slowly started to get better. They didn't recover overnight, but they made slow, steady progress. First, their sleeping hours started to get back in shape. Then, they all started attending therapy sessions together so they could deal with their feelings. And in what may have been the most important factor of all, they started spending more time together as a family, even with the Barclay's. They knew that they never wanted any more of the family to fall apart.
As for Fleta, she dealt with my death in her own way (she had been informed of my suicide a few weeks later): She and Avon postponed the wedding and they went off traveling all over Europe with Matthew. She would get some sort of souvenir and pray to me every night, telling me all about the fun she and Avon had. While in Spain, she ran into my Uncle James and Aunt Annemarie, who had heard of my suicide during their vacation. She introduced them to Matthew and they were taken by him as instantly as my father had been. They all moved to Torquay and spent quality time with my family as well.
Over the next few years, everyone slowly began to build their lives back together. First, once the war started, job opportunities suddenly appeared overnight, giving my father the opportunity to start his own business in a place where he could be closer to the family. He started his own newspaper business and called it the Claythorne Times, and who should be his assistant, but my mother!
Evelyn and Richard did eventually have another child: Vera Ann Barclay, who was born on the day Adolph Hitler committed suicide, thus ending the second world war a week later: April 30, 1945.
Fleta and Avon finally tied the knot on December 7, 1941. They had a happy marriage that resulted in twin girls named Verity and Agatha. Fleta went on to become a fashion designer. Matthew has been accepted into Oxford and will be going there in the fall.
And what about dear Hugo and Mrs. Hamilton? Hugo found it hard, but he did move on. He married twice; the first marriage resulted in a son named Cyril Ogilvie, but his wife died of pneumonia. His second marriage resulted in a daughter named Vera Elizabeth. Mrs. Hamilton also moved on and married a wealthy tycoon. She had a son named Timothy.
Ten years have come and gone since my death. And on this day, all of my family has gathered to visit my grave. And from above, I wish them good luck. I shall always visit them in their dreams and will never be gone.
"Is this the place, mummy?" piped up four-year-old Vera Ann Barclay.
Thirty-seven-year-old Evelyn Barclay clutched her daughter's hand tightly. "Yes, dear, this is your Auntie Vera's grave. She's the one you were named after."
"What was she like?" asked ten-going-on-eleven-year-old Derek Barclay.
"She was very lovely," replied Evelyn. "She was also very unhappy. She fell in love, but made a terrible mistake that cost her the man she loved. She felt depressed, but almost got over it…until she killed herself."
The children's grandparents, Clara and Fred Claythorne (both of whom were showing their age in their fifties), stood there before Mrs. Claythorne spoke: "She was an excellent swimmer, much like you, Derek."
"And she loved to read," said Mr. Claythorne.
"I think I remember her," said eighteen-year-old Matthew Emlyn. "I remember seeing her in a large church, and I remember her sometimes playing with me."
"Your cousin and I didn't always get along," confessed thirty-five-year-old Fleta Emlyn, who was the age Vera would be if she were still alive ten years later. "When we first met, I tricked her into saying a naughty word."
"That was you?" said Mrs. Claythorne. "You mean to say I yelled at Warren Mayer's mother for nothing?" She couldn't help but laugh in spite of herself.
"What was Auntie Vera's mistake?" asked Derek.
"You'll find out when we get home, dearest," said Evelyn. "Your sister will find out when she's old enough to understand it. And before I tell you, I'll let you know that love can be like alcohol: It can drive you to do incredibly stupid things that you would never do if you were sober. However, it can also be like a guiding light: It can help you get through the bad times and help you see the light." She gave her son a gentle hug. "Your aunt's love for that man drove her to do something horrible, but my love for you helped me deal with her death."
Everyone turned around and saw Hugo standing there.
"I realized a few hours ago what day it was, and I knew I had to come here as quickly as possible," said Hugo. "But my wife was at work and I had to drop my two children off with my sister." He stepped up to Vera's grave and put his flowers on her grave, along with the other flowers her family had placed.
For a moment, everyone stood there. It was not the raining day it had been on the day of the funerals. For once, it was a bright, sunny day that promised hope. The sunlight made the following words easily readable:
In loving memory
Vera Elizabeth Claythorne
March 15, 1914—August 11, 1939
The tenth little Indian boy
Credit Song: Bring Me To Life by Evanescence
Quote: I've tried so hard to tell myself that you're gone/But thought you're still with me/I've been alone all along—Amy Lee, My Immortal by Evanescence
A/N: (sniff) Wow, this chapter was the saddest, most emotionally intense chapter I've ever written. But I'm satisfied with it. I'm a bit sad to part with this story, though, since writing for Vera was so much fun. Perhaps I'll write more about her in the future. I hope you all had as much fun reading this as I had writing it.
PS Thanks to Christie Fan for their suggestion on using the Mary Alice Young narration technique; it really paid off!