It wasn’t the cat’s fault, not really. That was the thing about these unusual echoes that only Violet could sense: they worked the other way around too.
The echo, whatever it happened to be for that individual creature, would also attach to the one responsible for the death—forever marking the killer.
Carl had helped her to figure it all out when she was just a little girl. That was when she’d noticed the correlation between the dead mice and the broken birds that he would leave on their doorstep, each one with a distinct color, or scent, or feeling that only Violet could distinguish, a sensation that had nothing to do with the animal itself.
And Carl would carry that very same imprint on him, as if he’d somehow been stained by the killing. The sensory imprint was identical to the echo that was left on the body, and as far as Violet could tell, no two echoes were the same. They were distinct. Unique.
She also knew that animals that hunted—like her cat—could often carry several of these sensory markings, these death imprints, at once, which would fade only over time but never really vanish.
Carl had been a lifelong hunter, and while Violet knew that it was just part of his nature, she couldn’t help being irritated when the sensations he carried with him were unpleasant for her.
Unfortunately, this time it was especially objectionable.
She wandered restlessly around the house for a while, trying to find a place where the pungent odor couldn’t find her, but there seemed to be no safe-zone for her…at least not entirely. So she decided it might be a good night to get out of the house after all, even if it was to babysit for her aunt and uncle.
She quickly gathered her things, including her backpack filled with homework, told her mom she’d grab something to eat at her uncle’s house, and all but ran to the relative safety of her car.
Her uncle Stephen, her dad’s brother, was the youngest of four boys and was at least eight years younger than either of Violet’s parents. He was also the chief of police in their small town and was the polar opposite of her father. Namely, he was funny, at least when he was off duty. When he was working, he was no-nonsense and serious…exactly like her dad.
His wife, Violet’s aunt Kat, was only in her early thirties, but she was one of those women who had a youthful quality about her that made it hard to pinpoint her age just by looking at her.
“How do I look?” she asked Violet.
“Why are you asking her?” Stephen Ambrose complained when his wife ignored that he was standing right beside his niece.
Kat rolled her eyes at him like he was a slow-witted child. “Because all you care about is whether I’m done changing or not. You would say I looked good in a flannel nightgown if it meant we could leave.”
He smiled at her. “You would look good in a flannel nightgown.”
Kat shot Violet an apologetic look. “See what I have to live with?”
“I think you look great,” Violet told her aunt and meant it. Then she added, “But lose the necklace, it’s a little too much.”
Her aunt nodded, as though she’d been thinking the same thing, and pulled the long chain over her head. “See? That’s why I ask her.”
“Good God, woman, we’re just going to the movies,” he teased her.
“No, no, no. Dinner and a movie. This is date night, my friend, and don’t you forget it.” She poked him in the chest as she spoke. “Besides, I don’t get out enough. I want to look good.”
Uncle Stephen snaked his arm around his wife’s waist and pulled her up against him. “You do look good. Are you sure we have to go out?”
Her aunt shook her head and ignored him, giving Violet last-minute instructions for cleaning up after dinner, putting the kids to bed, and emergency contact information, all of which Violet already knew.
“Kathryn Ambrose…” her uncle announced, trying to get her attention. “Let’s go. She’ll be fine.”
They left in a flurry of good-bye kisses and “be goods,” aimed both at the kids and at their niece. When the door was finally closed, Violet went to where her cousins sat and began cleaning up their dinner mess.
Joshua didn’t really make a mess, his plate was tidy, and there were hardly any crumbs to wipe away from his spot at the table. Like Violet’s dad, he was neat and meticulous.
It was little Cassidy’s high chair that looked like a bomb had gone off. The two-year-old had ketchup on her hands and her face and even in her hair, and it took Violet about fifteen minutes to clean her up.
At least bedtime was relatively painless.
Cassidy was exhausted, and fell asleep in Violet’s arms as she rocked the toddler.
Once it was all over with, Violet flopped down on the couch, grateful for a moment’s peace. Until the doorbell rang.
She was torn between wanting to be cautious about who was on the other side of the door and not wanting the noise of the doorbell to wake the sleeping children…especially a cranky two-year-old.
“Who is it?” she called out in a loud whisper from the inside.
“It’s Jay!” she heard him quietly call back.
She smiled and unbolted the door.
The sight of him standing there made her pulse burst. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged, coming inside without waiting to be invited. Violet knew that her aunt and uncle wouldn’t mind; she and Jay had been kind of a package deal for as long as she could remember. Everyone was used to the two of them being together.