Chapter 9:



Ruth wasn't at home when we knocked on the door, so we called in at my cousin, Annie. She lives in a semi-deserted village called Woodburn. Her house is opposite the small church where she got married. There's nothing exceptional about the church besides the crooked and lifeless tree standing besides it. The roof of the church is falling apart, and nothing's grown on that tree since I last came here for her wedding.

Annie opens the door to greet us with a happy face. I wonder how long this will last? She's still in what I think is her pyjamas, but they're more like lingerie. "Hello, long time no see."

"Can we come in?" I ask.

"Of course." She takes the white dress hanging on her staircase and slips it on as we walk in the door. I catch Todd smirking at her bottom—filthy bastard.

Her house is warm and inviting. But there's an unpleasant smell coming from upstairs—possibly sewage. She gives us tea and biscuits that Todd scoffs quickly. "So what brings you here?" Annie asks.

"We want to talk about Kathleen," I tell her. Her face goes white as she collapses onto her pink sofa. "There's somebody pretending to be her online."

"I still think she's real," Todd says after finishing all five biscuits. "She's my girlfriend. She rang me and rang your granddad. Has she spoken to you?"

She crosses her legs and begins to shake. Biting her nails, she replies in a weak voice, "you don't want to talk to her."

"That doesn't answer my question. Has she spoken to you?"

"NO!" Annie screams. Bringing Todd to her house was a bad idea. I should have warned him about her. She's easy to trigger. "She can't talk to me because SHE'S BURNING IN HELL WITH SATAN." She squeezes her crotch. "She hurt me here. She shoved unholy toys and her fingers inside." After tensing up, she sighs and throws herself onto the floor.

"Are you all right Annie?" I don't believe her accusations for a moment. She's a traditional catholic, but you wouldn't think that with the way she drinks, takes drugs and mistreats her son. Whilst my grandfather embraced Kathleen's sexuality—Annie rejected her. Still, she's my cousin and I can't help but worry about her when she's in this state.

She prays before hopping back on the sofa. "With Jesus on my side, I am always fine."

"Jesus doesn't exist!" Todd snaps out of the blue. I hear him mutter to himself what a crazy woman she is.

"Says the man falling head over heels over a dead lesbian."

"She's not dead."

"Either way," Annie whispers. "You shouldn't trust Kathleen. She's a monster. All forms of social media are the work of Satan."

Annie never did own a computer. She only got it for her son. Romeo doesn't know me or Kathleen well enough to pull something like this off. So I guess I can cross Annie Cross off the list.

"Oh Romeo! Oh Romeo!" Annie calls out at the top of her voice like a strained soprano. "Come down and say hello."

No response.

She drops her teacup. "I'm fed up with this! These bloody people keep reporting me to the social services." She looks up at me and points at me like a criminal. "Are you one of them?"

I shake my head. "No. It's not me."

"'re my cousin. You wouldn't do a thing like that to me would you?"

"I'm in the bathroom," a disgruntled childish voice calls back. I'm sure Romeo is about fourteen.

"Shouldn't he be in school?" I ask.

"No. They're off for two weeks so he says."

"Easter holidays, right?" Todd butts in. He whispers close into my ear, "Can we go now? This bitch is starting to creep me out."

"HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU?" Annie screams suddenly, banging her stairs with her stiletto heels. "IF YOU'RE NOT SHITTING GET OFF THE POT!"

Todd and I both stand silent. Todd's right, I shouldn't have come here. I think we need to make a move, but I can't help but worry about that poor boy. He has no chance in life with her as a mother.

The last time I saw Romeo he was an obese child being rolled about in filthy puddles. Now a skinny lad covered in bruises in the shape of simplified crucifixes.

Blood drips from his wrist.


"I've been hurting myself. What does it look like I'm doing?"

"No. No. No..." Annie keeps on saying no until the clock strikes ten. "This is not what Jesus wants."

"I thought you said Jesus wanted us to suffer?"

"Not you," Annie hisses at her son. "You're not supposed to suffer. You're just a child." She looks at us both. "You two better get going. And peace be with you."

We leave.

"Thank god for that!" Todd says with a deep sigh as we walk across the road. "That woman is a fucking psycho. How the hell was she allowed to breed?"

"She's had a really horrible life," I explain to Todd. "She was married at sixteen and became a widow and single mother at seventeen."

"That's no excuse to treat him like that." He climbs over the hedge and lights a cigarette by the tree. He raises his head and squints. "What the hell is she doing?"

The top window of my cousin's house opens wide as Annie leans half her body out of the window, clinging onto the handle. "STAY AWAY FROM THE TREE!"

Todd takes no notice of her and carries on smoking. "There's no way Kathleen would rape her. She would NEVER lay a finger on her."

"At least we agree on something. And we can say for sure that Annie isn't behind those profiles."

Todd blows Tobacco in my face. "We're one step closer to finding out the truth. One step closer to finding Kathleen."

"We should go back to Ruth's house," I suggest. I know where Kathleen's final resting place is. I've got a better chance of winning the lottery than convincing Todd to come to the cemetery. A simple google search could bring up Kathleen's obituary. How can I prove to him that Kathleen is dead? He has to accept the truth at some point, and when he does realise she's gone, it's not going to be pretty.

I'm sure Ruth has Kathleen's death certificate in her house. That's it! If Ruth can show us the documentation to prove that she's gone, then I can help Todd realise that she's gone. It's going to be easier said than done. I would hate to be in his bad books.

Sorry Todd, I know this isn't going to be nice, but we need to get to the truth as soon as possible. He's been silent the whole time as my thoughts about him and Kathleen wander in my head. He's addicted to his phone, I wonder what him and this catfish are talking about?