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Fiction Fantastic 2019 Winning Story: “Betrayal” by Frances Munger

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2019 Winners Anthology, Portals here.

“Betrayal” by Frances Munger, Roosevelt Middle School

Honorable Mention, Middle School Level, 2019


Betrayal

By Frances Munger

Roosevelt Middle School

Editor’s note: This story has guns and violence including suicide.

Standing at the top of the marble staircase, I pick nervously at the folds of my evening gown. Alis told me he’d be here. He promised. I shiver a little, because it’s drafty in here. And also because I am hyper aware of cold metal against my leg, the imprint of a handgun strapped to my calf. It feels like ice. It reeks of betrayal. 

When I was five years old, our old hound dog died. He was hit by a car, an ignoble death for such a lovely dog. I saw it happen, my first brush with death. I threw his favorite ball, too far, out into the street. I called for him to stop, to watch out. The driver couldn’t stop in time. Impact. Brakes. Too late. He lay on the concrete, bleeding and breathing heavy until he didn’t anymore. I screamed. And I screamed and I screamed, until Alis ran out of the house. He was maybe eleven at the time, and old enough to pick me up and carry me inside. I didn’t stop crying for days. Because I killed that dog. I betrayed him, and it ended in death and blood and tears. Most betrayals do. 

Alis calls to me from the bottom of the staircase, his smile lighting up the dim hall. He bounds up the stairs, not at all hindered by the tuxedo he’s wearing. He takes my hand and kisses it, then we walk arm in arm down the marble stairs. We reach the bottom, and Alis speaks. “How have you been, little sister? Getting into all colors of trouble, I assume.” 

I shake my head, nervously brushing a lock of hair behind my ear. He hasn’t even mentioned the gun yet. “Not at all. And you? Alis, I’m worried. You shouldn’t be associating with Nova and her crew. That’s how you get into trouble.” He side-eyes me, raising one brow. 

“And how do you know I’ve been involved with them? Do you have Dante spying on me again?”

“Never mind about Dante. I just want you to be safe. You’re all I have.”

“Sounds like you have Dante, too,” Alis grumbles, but I choose to ignore it because I can’t stand to have the Dante argument right now. 

“Alis! You know dealing with Nova is dangerous!” I take a deep breath and lower my voice. “I assume that’s why you needed this gun. You know I don’t condone violence. You remember Mother.” 

Alis hisses, swinging me into a side room. “Lower your voice! Of course I remember Mother. How could you say that? This gun is for self-defense, nothing more.”

Nova Teffanne deals guns. Her family deals guns. But they also use them. It’s never been proven, but the Teffannes have been suspected in no less than sixty charges of murder by gunshot. Alis started hanging around with them early on, before we were orphaned. I protested, but he ignored me, of course. Mother never found out, of course. I can’t help wondering if Alis is really just friends with Nova, or if he helps her. Helps her sell guns. Or kill people with guns. I would like to think that I know Alis better than that. But I don’t think I do. 

Three weeks ago, I received a letter from Alis, requesting that I use my connections to obtain a gun for him. I didn’t know why, couldn’t he just get one from Nova? I initially refused, as using any type of firearm is against my oldest beliefs. But he begged and begged, and refusing my brother was never one of my strong suits. I sent Dante out to find a small handgun, which is now strapped to my calf. Why Alis insisted that I bring it here is beyond me. I offered to deliver it, then I insisted he stop by to receive it, and I even offered to visit his house to drop it off. Which I never do. But he simply set the exchange for Madam Ingarde’s annual spring fete. And that was that. Now here we stand, behind a vase of peonies, in one of Madam’s many blush-colored parlors. 

“Don’t give it to me now. Save it.” Alis’s eyes flicker, betraying nervousness. Alis is never nervous. 

Mother always said we should not use our money to set us apart. Our wealth and connections meant nothing if we were not gracious to everyone. Alis always scoffed at that, arguing to me that some people are just meant to be better than others. I knew mother would disapprove, but I also knew better than to tell. Alis taught me from a young age that no one likes a rat. In retrospect, I should have said something. Maybe if I had told Mother, Alis wouldn’t be running around with Nova. 

“Alis?”

When I was twelve and Alis was eighteen, a gunman entered our home. I was over at Celia Bourden’s for a sleepover. Alis, well Alis was off who knows where. We had a security system. It didn’t do us any good. A gunman forced his way into our home. Father’s brains were blown out, splattered across his study. The intruder caught Mother in her room, doing her hair. It only took one shot to break her skull open, the contents of it sprayed across her mirror. The man took everything. Mother’s jewels, our entire safe, even Father’s fancy cigars. From the moment I discovered their bodies, hours after the murders, I resolved I would never touch a gun. Never ever again could I stand the thought that this tiny machine was capable of destroying worlds. My mother and father were my world, blown into oblivion with two shots and not even time for a prayer. 

The murders were investigated, of course. But they never managed to pin it on anyone. The case went cold, and Alis and I buried our parents in the colder earth. Now, I call them only “the murders.” If I describe it more accurately, the murders of my parents, it takes me back to the day I came home to blood and bone splattered on a silver mirror. 

Mother knew it would happen, somehow. We kept most of the money in the bank, on her insistence against Father’s wishes. “Just in case,” she always said. But every time she reminded us why, it felt like she knew something. Like she looked past time and saw something horrible. Something she prayed would never come. She insisted I go to that sleepover. I didn’t even know Celia Bourden that well. We spent the time in awkward, stilted, conversation, and fell asleep early. Mother knew Alis would be out. Alis was always out. And another thing. The day she died, she was wearing her best, blood-red dress. The dress she always told us she’d like to be buried in. 

Alis used to talk about Nova. He would tell me what she told him. It was chilling, depraved. Things that should never be said aloud. Things that should never be done. He talked of guns, and power, and privilege. Of what it took to truly become one of Nova’s people. The sacrifice of a loved one. When he told me this, I pushed him away. I giggled nervously. “Seriously, Alis? What a dumb idea.” I brushed it off as teen angst, morbidity as a side effect of dealing with people like Nova. But I couldn’t be alone with Alis after that conversation. Something just felt . . . off. 

I could have saved her, too. I could have stopped him. If I had been there, maybe the bullets could have stopped at me. I ignored the warnings, wrote off all the red flags as my imagination. I betrayed her. And it ended in death and blood and tears. Like most betrayals do.

“Come on, Bea, let’s go join the festivities. Madam Ingarde throws a wonderful garden party.” I nod, but hesitate. Alis never says my name. It’s always sister, or love, or dearest. Never my real name, Beatrice, and certainly never Mother’s nickname for me, Bea. 

“Alis . . . ” I start, but he cuts me off. 

“To the party!” He strides off in the direction of the garden. Like a speechless fool, I follow. 

We walk through the topiaries and gardenias, ignoring the stares and whispers that follow. “Parents . . . Shot . . . . Huge inheritance . . . Girl’s a hermit, never leaves . . . traumatized, poor dear . . . .” 

I duck my head. No one approaches us, too scared to engage with the wealthy orphans, and the girl who never leaves home. It’s not that I’m scared to go out, I’m perfectly capable of it. I just don’t have any need. Dante reads to me, and brings me donuts on Mondays. What more do I need? What more do I deserve? I killed my mother. Or rather, I couldn’t save her, which is basically the same thing. As soon as I told anyone that, they would leave. They would think me a monster. So it’s easier to just . . . not. And without any distractions, I can focus on what I need to do: protect Alis. He’s all I have left. 

I would do anything for him. Alis stayed, when everyone else left. Alis stayed, when he saw what I’d done. Alis stayed with me, his sister, a monster. 

I take two flutes of champagne from a passing servant. Alis smiles at me. I smile back. It’s normal. I take a breath and look to the sky, where a full moon lights up the night. 

It was a bright, full moon night when I overheard Mother and Father in the study. I was old enough to put myself to bed, but not quite old enough to forgo a goodnight kiss from my parents. Strained whispers coming from the open door stopped me in the hall. Only slightly ajar, the opening allowing me to just overhear a conversation. 

“But we’ll be safe. They wouldn’t stoop to that level.” My father’s gruff monotone.

“You know very well they would!” My mother’s shrill whisper. “We aren’t safe! What about the children?” 

“No Teffanne can touch us here. Not unless they know the code! We’re safe.” 

I remember rushing back up the stairs and burying myself in quilts. What was wrong? Were the Teffannes after Father? Would they hurt us? Probably nothing, I convinced myself. I was young, and trusting. I didn’t think much of it, other than the icy feeling that buried itself in my chest. 

Something that I still think about, even years after the murder. The alarm system. It was disabled, as if someone had known the code. But that wasn’t possible, of course. Only our family knew the code. And no one besides Mother and Father were home at that time—where had Alis been? Had he already started hanging with Nova by then? I could never remember. Of course, it wasn’t Alis. But then again. Only family knew the code. 

“And you must be Beatrice.” 

Alis elbows me, turning my attention to a young woman wearing an atrocious amount of eyeliner. I fumble for words.

“Why, I, yes. I am Beatrice.” 

“How lovely, how lovely! So sorry about your parents, dear. Tragic! Did they ever find out what happened?” 

The murders happened almost four years ago—why does this gaudy woman feel the need to bring it up now? And why does Alis suddenly look ill at ease, as if she has upset him? She looks familiar, somehow. But it’s like I’m looking through rough water, I can’t quite place her face. 

“Pardon me?” 

“Well, they were murders, weren’t they? Did they ever catch the gunman?” The woman’s eyes widen dramatically, as if this is just a curiosity and not the tale of how two children were orphaned.

“I . . . how did you know? Who are you, exactly?” 

She smiles. “Oh, you haven’t guessed? You are terribly slow to catch on, poor dear.” She turns to Alis, and he flinches under her gaze. She turns back to me. Why would Alis flinch?

Unless . . . she was someone truly dangerous. 

Suddenly, I remember where I’d seen her before. Articles in the newspaper. Billboards. Wanted lists, though she always managed to wiggle her way off those sooner or later. Her sneer is unmistakable. My eyes widen. Nova Teffanne. 

“You—” 

Inevitably, gunshots ring out, snapping the air in two. The flutes drop to the ground, shattering into glittering constellations on the garden path. I don’t think. I don’t feel. I run. I tear away from Alis, expecting him to follow. But he doesn’t. I skid to a stop, disturbing pebbles and turf. Alis stands, unfazed. He glances at me, a grim look on his face. Pain flickers in his eyes. He mouths to me. “I’m sorry.” What is exactly is he sorry for? Then Nova hands Alis a small gun, flicking her hand towards me. I don’t wait to see what happens. Again, I run. 

I burst back into the hall with the marble staircase. Footsteps fall, heavy, behind me. “Stop! We won’t hurt you!” Alis pants, still holding his gun. “Bea, just take out your gun. If you carry it, if you use it, Nova will finally understand! You can stay. You can be one of us.” 

I realize, the epiphany draining the color from my face, that the gun was never for Alis. It was for me. Alis was giving me a chance. My saving grace. My golden opportunity. I can be one of them. I can join Nova. 

Or, I can die. I know the stakes. I know how it works. But I can’t do that. I can’t just kill like Nova’s gang can. Like Alis can, I suppose. 

I stand on the stairs, white marble solid beneath my feet. I kneel, unstrapping my gun. The staircase really is beautiful. Alis smiles, holding out his hand. “Come, join us, sister.” Sister. Brother. All my world. I am the sister of a brother. 

But this. This twist, this trick. This forcing me to become the very thing I hate most, a person who enjoys to kill. Or I can die. I can die.

No. Dying suggests an accident. This wouldn’t be. Alis can kill me. 

That isn’t something a brother does. 

That is betrayal. And betrayals end in death and blood and tears.

So I know. What I must do. What was always going to happen. 

I raise the gun to my own head. Squeezing my eyes shut, tears stream down. Death and blood. 

Alis shouts, racing up the stairs. Not quite fast enough. 

I squeeze the trigger.

Blood spatters, Alis screams. Death. 

My brother watches the light fade from my eyes. Will he regret it? Will he weep over me? He knows what he has done. 

Betrayal.