The Eyes Have No Soul
No matter how hard Clare Rosser tried to escape the house of her birth in the sleepy forest town of Holden, Massachusetts, life kicked her in the guts by drawing her back. It had only been eighteen months. Freedom had been hers at last. Clare, with all her determination and drive, had sworn that she would get out of Dodge. Yet here she was, in her sophomore year, being dragged home in order to mitigate another disaster. She just could not escape.
The trouble was she had no idea exactly what she was returning to this time round. Only hours before, Clare had been watching an old John Wayne flick with her friends and boyfriend. One phone call later, she had hurtled down route 90 from her rented house in Brookline, Boston, to deal with the latest drama. Was Mom ill? Had Dad drunk himself senseless again? Nobody would say.
Clare gazed at her blue-eyed reflection in the rear-view mirror of her Mini Cooper, a car given to her by her parents as a sweet sixteen present, and four years later the only item from them she treasured. Dad had imported the shell and restored the car to perfect working order, painted it red with twin white stripes on the hood and delivered it to her with a bank of blinding headlights attached to the front and a full tank of diesel. Never mind that it was a petrol engine and had to be fully drained and cleaned before she could take it out.
One of many mistakes her dad had made with the best intentions, like the time he had chased off a would-be boyfriend who just wanted to play her a song with his guitar. He wanted his daughter homebound. It only drove her further away. Her cell began to ring from its place on the passenger seat; Clare picked the phone up, wedging it between shoulder and ear. “Hello?”
“Clare? Clare Rosser? Is that you?”
“Yes. This is Clare.”
“Hello dear, it’s Dr. Julian Strange. I am your family —”
“Yes, I know perfectly well who you are, Julian. What’s going on?” Julian Strange had been the Rosser family physician for as long as Clare could remember. He had dealt with the fallout of her parents’ bouts of alcoholism with good grace, patient and informative. He was professional to the core when Clare had needed a father figure, sometimes impersonal, like he didn’t want to get too close.
“Are you on your way?”
Clare glanced out of the window. In the growing dusk, the woodland of southernmost Holden thrust up like a series of fingers clawing out of the hillside ahead. The police roadblock, comprised of three cars parked at random angles on the nearside of the railway crossing, lay between her and her house beyond. “I’m nearby. Julian, what’s going on?”
There was a pause. “Just... Just get here as soon as you can, Clare.”
“What do you mean ‘get here as soon as you can’?” Clare shouted down the phone in response. “Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on?”
There was no reply. Clare glared at the screen. The call had been disconnected. This left her even more frustrated. Resisting the urge to scream and throw her phone, Clare set it down on the black vinyl of the passenger seat and concentrated on the roadblock. It would do no good for her to end up another footnote in the Rosser family casualty dossier. She gripped the steering wheel so hard the molded plastic creaked and turned the car around. There was another way in.
Holden’s outskirts flashed by in a blur of buildings and streetlights, the traffic for once accommodating Clare as she traversed the town. By the time she turned into the far end of Pleasant Street, the sky was almost completely black, only the slightest impression of darkest blue giving hint that beyond the hills of central Massachusetts, it was not yet fully night.
The bank of headlights on her Mini Cooper made Clare feel as though she was burrowing through a tunnel of light into the forest leaning over the highway. So intent was she on getting to her parents’ house that she jumped with a small yelp when her phone rang once more, the 'Star Trek' theme blaring loud. Her brothers’ name was on the screen.
A deer jumped out of the forest. Clare slammed on her brakes. In an instant, it leapt away, another ghost in the dark, a memory to be retained on this bizarre night. Once the shock passed, Clare took a deep breath, willing her body to calmness. She only had one goal: Reaching her brother.
“Jeff, tell me that you’re home.”
There was a pause, as if the person on the end of the line were confused by her response.
“Clare?” It was her brother.
“Jeff? Where are you?”
“I was away hunting with Bo and his dad. I just got back. What's going on? There's police all round our house.”
In one of those strange moments of lucidity, insight hit Clare. “Jeff, have the police seen you?”
“Not yet. I'm standing by the big tree in the McCade’s garden.” The treehouse was now rotten, timbers uncared for and disused. Clare remembered it well, three houses away from her own. Good memories from childhood, like that old tree, were rare.
“Jeff, I want you to stay right there. Stay out of sight.”
“What's going on?”
“I... I don't know. They won't tell me. Hold on, I'm coming.”
The road plunged back into woodland as Clare navigated Sunnyside Avenue, an ironic name if any given the manner of her visit. Up ahead, she could see the flashing blues and reds of a fleet of police vehicles, packed onto the gravel driveway. This was not just the local sheriff come to visit.
An ambulance had just pulled away, speeding off in the opposite direction past the first roadblock. Clare resisted the urge to follow it and parked on the street, out of sight of the flashing lights. The earthy scent of woodland was normally a balm to her, but there was nothing calming about what was going on here.
As soon as she jumped out, intent on finding Jeff, a figure stepped out of the shadow of the garden.
“It’s you,” Jeff said. With a slight height advantage, Jeff Rosser made an imposing shadow backlit as he was by blue and red strobes.
Clare grabbed her younger brother in a brief embrace. He was ice-cold. “What’s been going on here?”
He turned to the scene of whatever crime had been committed. “I don’t know. They carried... something out just now. Evidence zipped up in two black bags. It didn’t look heavy enough to be bodies. Clare, did Dad finally snap for good?”
“You think he’d kill Mom?”
Jeff nodded, unable to utter the words they were both scared to say, lest they be true.
“Clare, you haven’t been here. Dad’s been all over the place. He looked thin, like he wasn’t eating right. So did Mom. All they did was drink all day. Anything they could get their hands on. I stayed out of the way. I’ve been away over the weekend.”
Clare held on to him for a moment. His body was cold, tired. He shivered in her grasp despite his muscular body. “Get in my car and stay there. There’s a blanket in the back. Wrap yourself in it. No arguments. I’ll go take a look around and come get you when I know something.”
Clare left her brother by the Mini, every step taking her closer to uncertainty. Her home should have been a refuge, the sanctuary to which she could retreat in times of crisis. Yet here it was, the nexus of chaos it had always been. She passed several vehicles, all unattended, engines still hot, reaching the yellow tape that read: ‘Crime scene – do not cross’. It was her house. She cared not for such barriers.
“Miss,” warned a deep voice from beside the front door, “step back please. You can’t come in here.”
“The hell I can’t,” Clare shot back. “My parents live here, and you guys called me. I didn’t drive all the way from Boston to be turned away.”
The cop appeared confused. He turned to another cop. “Who called her?”
Clare pounced on this moment of hesitancy to lift the tape and push the front door wide open. Intuition told Clare the face she looked upon now would become one that would corner her at every turn from this point forward in her life.
“Hello, I’m Detective Andrew Harley. Can I help you, young lady?”
Clare stared, silent. There were people in her kitchen, beyond the hallway, two men wearing FBI accreditation glanced up at her and closed the door. The detective attempted to block her view with his considerable frame.
“Miss, are you Clare Rosser?”
Her attention turned from the intruders in the kitchen. “Yes, I am Clare. What are you doing here? What happened?”
Harley frowned. The crease in his brow was made all the more severe by the iron-gray hair cut short, military style. Clearly, he was not used to being addressed in such a manner. His bulk was muscle turned to fat judging by the lack of definition around his midriff. This was a man used to giving orders from an office, not pounding the beat.
“If you would sit down—” Harley indicated with one greasy hand that she move to the couch in the living room. His breath reeked of beer. This was a man who, until very recently, had been out enjoying himself at some cheap diner.
“No, dammit, I won't sit down. I've just driven from Boston and nobody will give me any answers. Why are Federal Agents in my kitchen? Where are my parents?”
Harley attempted to guide her to the lounge. Clare dodged round him and ran up the stairs to her mother’s bedroom; her parents had slept apart for years in an attempt to maintain the fiction of family. They were ultimately too cowardly to separate for good. They had always felt the need to suffer in silence, the pretence enough to fool outsiders.
“Wait,” called Harley's croaky cigarette-scarred voice from behind her. “You can't go in there.”
“Mom?” Clare called. “Dad?” She threw open her mother's bedroom door and froze.
The room had been scoured clean. A man in a boiler suit was scrubbing the floor. The room reeked of disinfectant. In a moment, Harley was upon her, yanking her out by the arm. “This is a crime scene, girl.”
“Where exactly is your crime scene? You can't have been here much more than an hour.”
He pulled her to the landing, knocking into a side table. A lamp tipped over, rolling to hang by its cable.
“Where is all the equipment? Who’s leading the walk-through? Where are all your analysts?”
Clare tugged against him, standing her ground as he attempted to pull her down the stairs.
“How can you have taken trace evidence if the room is clean? Where are the photographers? Sketch artists? Where is your evidence log?”
She snatched her arm away from the detective. “Where. Are. My. Parents?”
Harley's skin had begun to mottle with suppressed rage. His voice was strained. “I'm sorry, Miss Rosser, your parents were found deceased earlier. There was no sign of a struggle. The bodies have to go off for post mortem...”
The words hit her, but did not register beyond the word ‘deceased’. Her parents were gone. All sound became muted, as she looked inward, seeking a logical explanation. Her parents were dead? They were dysfunctional, but they wouldn’t just lie down and die. The taste of iron spread around her mouth and Clare realized that she had bitten her bottom lip.
Harley was still speaking to her. “...social services will be contacted.”
“What? No. I don’t need social services. I’m twenty; Jeff is nearly eighteen. We will manage just fine. When will the police and lab reports be available?”
Harley appeared caught off-guard by her straightforward, dispassionate approach. “I don’t know what you think you will glean from that, young lady.”
His tone just made her mad. How dare he talk down to her?
“Don’t be so condescending. I’m majoring in Criminal Justice at Boston. I know what’s supposed to be going on here. You don’t clean up a crime scene after an hour.”
“Unfortunately for you, we are not in Boston.”
So this is how it was. Clare pushed past Harley and started down the stairs. “Fine, I’ll just ask those Feds.”
“What Feds?” came Harley’s seemingly innocent reply.
Clare turned at the bottom of the stairs to glare at the man then ran to the kitchen, finding it now devoid of any life. She stood there for a moment, confused, before Harley closed in behind her, the front of his belly touching against her back.
“Thank you for your cooperation, miss. It has made our conclusion to this investigation much more thorough. If you need anything else...” Harley ran his hand down her arm. “You have but to call the precinct in Worcester and ask for me.”
Clare remained motionless. Evidently deprived of more sport by lack of reaction, Harley moved off, his heavy footsteps making the floorboards creak as he left the house, the door wide open. What police cars were left pulled out of the driveway and onto the road, vanishing in a cloud of grit-filled dust.