When Joyce came home that night, she expected some light. But the whole house was as dark as any other nights like when she didn’t have a roommate. That sense of loneliness soon subsided. Joyce forced herself to think reasonably, knowing too well Claudia must have a really rough past. Claudia was probably really tired hence resting away and restoring her energy. She knew there would be a time in the future when they would spend some time together like other roommates. And then Claudia would be willing to share her tale, whatever it might be.

“You’re back?” Claudia’s voice asked hauntingly from her room.

Joyce turned around toward Claudia’s room to see the same darkness enveloping the area, no lights came on whatsoever to indicate Claudia had awakened. Joyce was just putting away her painting and tools in her studio. She guessed the rustling noises must have startled Claudia awake. Joyce put her brushes to one corner of a table and made her way toward the room across the hall. She pushed the door in and entered. Instead of seeing Claudia on the bed, she spotted Claudia sitting at the table next to the door. More specifically, at the desk by the door and seemed to be writing something. The strangest thing was how Claudia didn’t turn on the lights at all.

“I thought you would be asleep already,” Joyce said, studying Claudia cautiously, wondering what was going on.

“I wanted to leave,” Claudia said in a quiet tone, containing some hollowness in her voice. “But I thought I should inform you of some things first. If you hadn’t come back as you did, I would’ve left a note than wait any longer and risk it.”

Joyce knew something was definitely wrong. If not, why the change in attitude and saying that she wanted to leave? She settled down at a chair next to Claudia–and resisted the urge to turn on the light. “What’s going on? Why do you want to leave? I thought we agreed that you would stay here until you figure out your next move.”

Claudia shook her head, still not looking at Joyce. “I already figured out my next move. I don’t want to cause any trouble for you.”

Joyce couldn’t help but felt quite amused at Claudia’s calculative way. Not that she meant it in a bad way, but she thought Claudia didn’t have to feel bad for leaning on her for the time being, especially the financials and all. “Hey, I already told Nic that I finally have a roommate, are you going to leave just like that and let him laugh at me for chasing my roommate away?”

Upon hearing Nic’s name, Claudia recoiled. Her gesture made Joyce’s teasing smile dissipated.

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Joyce urged, trying hard to stay patient.

Claudia finally relaxed, but just slightly since she was still hugging herself and showing traces of fear. “You would never believe it, but he’s not who he says he is.”

Joyce had on her puzzled look–even though it was too dark for Claudia to see. “What are you talking about? You mean Nic? You know him?”

“How long have you known him?” Claudia asked back.

“Just a few months,” Joyce answered. “He’s from Earth actually, so he’s still learning about us. And he wears fake long ears to hide from others. I mean he’s afraid they’re not accepting him, but he says when he’s comfortable with it, he would tell everyone.”

“Did he tell you where he lives?”

“Oh, he lives on the other side of town, way past city hall. It’s actually in one of those smaller streets. He likes it that it’s quiet. One of the local guys suggested it to him. They had an empty spot.”

“So that’s where he went.”

Joyce wrinkled her face, still pondering why Claudia hadn’t answered her questions. “What’s going on?”

Claudia finally turned to face Joyce–or it seemed that way from what Joyce was able to see from the hallway lights’ aid. “I know you won’t believe what I’m going to say, but I know Cyndi would want me to do it.”

Joyce’s confused look stretched further onto her face. “Cyndi?”

Claudia sighed and rubbed her face before continuing. “Several months back, Cyndi and I came to the seaside to investigate that strange big house.”

Joyce wrinkled her face. “That tedious house blocking this side of town’s view? I’m surprised no one filed any papers to get rid of that house already.”

Though Joyce had interrupted, Claudia didn’t show any signs of annoyance. She just nodded and continued on in her passive, hollow voice. In fact, if one had known her in the past, one would realize how much deeper her voice sounded versus that sugary tune she once possessed. “After we came out from exploring the house, Cyndi spotted you and ran after you. But there was a crowd blocking us. And then we tried looking for you at the traditional festival but we weren’t able to locate you.”

Joyce waved her hand in the air then. “Oh. I never go to those, I rather stay home and paint.”

Claudia’s expression was still passive but there seemed to be pain on her face. Joyce wasn’t sure, the hallway light was still not aiding that much.

“Then it happened…” Claudia said, her voice almost a whisper.

“What happened?” Then Joyce realized something else. “Wait, why were you two chasing after me? Does your friend know me?”

Claudia shook her head. “Cyndi saw you in her dream. No, it was a nightmare.”

Joyce had lost count of the amount of time she’d been spending to decipher Claudia’s fragmented story. Yet she still wanted to remain patient because of Claudia’s devastated state. “Could you tell me exactly what’s going on from the beginning?”

Claudia closed her eyes and tried to shrug the pain away before opening them again. This time, she looked more determined, more courageous. She told Joyce everything, including Cyndi’s strange dream that had become their daily topic–whether to poke fun or decipher to death at dinnertime. It had been their secret because no one would ever believe it, including themselves. Then came the stories about the three men responsible for their investigation. When Claudia disclosed of Nic’s status as Cyndi’s ex-neighbor, Joyce winced and looked like she wanted to interfere. Yet she held her tongue, waiting for Claudia to finish.

“I was too late…” Claudia sobbed as she got near the end. “I was too late. Why did I let her go…alone? Even if I couldn’t even imagine…some dream…like that would happen, but it was…dark out there that night. So dark…How could I…let her go…all by herself?”

Claudia was on a brink of hysterical at that point. Joyce couldn’t just sit there and watch. She edged closer to Claudia and soothed her by patting on her shoulder. Claudia ended up sobbing onto Joyce’s shoulder as well. Joyce didn’t shift away but just continued to pat Claudia’s back. It continued for a good fifteen-minutes before Claudia finally regained herself and attempted to wipe her tears away.

“It was them,” Claudia said, looking straight at Joyce. “I knew it was them.”

Joyce didn’t want to shoot Claudia down, especially when she was in such a condition. But it didn’t make sense. “How could you be so sure? I meant you didn’t see it with your own eyes or…”

Joyce didn’t get a chance to finish because Claudia had taken out something from her pocket. It was Joyce’s clothes, but since Claudia was wearing it now, she must have transferred that item over. Joyce could feel the item as some sort of cloth, but she couldn’t be sure. She brought it toward the light in the hallway to get a clearer view of it. It was really a piece of cloth. It could be passed for some ripped piece of cloth from someone’s shirt.

“It was in Cyndi’s hand,” Claudia clarified of the cloth’s background. “I unknowingly yanked it from her hand that night when I was struggling with the others while they were trying to pull me away from Cyndi’s body. “I didn’t realize it until I went home that night. Then I remembered seeing Nic wearing the costume that had this kind of material.”

“Then why didn’t you give it to the authorities?” Joyce asked, still studying the cloth in her hand.

Claudia shook her head. “I was too late. When I went to Cyndi’s apartment the next day, the authorities were there searching the place for evidence that could solve her murder. I saw Nic still there. He probably thought no one knew so he was playing it safe. But he also saw me. I had to run for it or I would be the next victim. Since then…I didn’t dare to show up around that area of town anymore, and had to keep hiding.”

“If you managed to hide all this time, why didn’t you try going to the authorities to provide such important evidence?”

Claudia shook her head. “You can call me a coward, but I didn’t dare to. And what would I say? Like you believe me now about some flaky dream. If I still have the drawings, I would show it to you, but the authorities probably took it all and filed it away already.”

“If the pictures are in their possessions, wouldn’t they recognize me and seek me out for questions? You did say your friend drawn some pictures of me.”

Claudia shook her head. “You look a little different from the picture. I mean your hair was longer in the drawing and your face was a bit blurry because Cyndi had lost some of the details when she woke up.”

“I cut my hair about a month back,” Joyce admitted–and she was feeling an unknown chill from within. She didn’t plan to believe any of Claudia’s words, especially those strange nightmares, but she was having second thoughts about it just because of that one detail. And the reason for not believing Claudia wasn’t because she trusted Nic unconditionally but because it was too hard to believe.

“That’s why I didn’t even associate you to the whole incident when you saved me at the seaside. It wasn’t until Nic showed up that I was forced to think of the whole incident, and that was when I realized why you looked so familiar. Because I already told you, I could only rely on the drawings since I didn’t see you when Cyndi spotted you in the crowd that day.”

Joyce didn’t know what else to say. There were still too many holes in the story, but perhaps she could go check it out later? “You should rest. We’ll talk about it more tomorrow.”

Claudia shook her head. “I have to go.”

“You can’t go in this condition.”

“I’ll promise I won’t steal from the neighbors anymore so you won’t be held responsible. I’ll just find a way to get out of this town for good. I already told you I would’ve left earlier, but I wanted to warn you about him before I go.”

Joyce shook her head. “No, you’re not going anywhere. You’re safest here. If Nic’s really guilty, he wouldn’t think of looking here for you.”

Claudia stared at Joyce intently–as if wanting to dissect her every word and its intention behind the gentle comfort. “Can I really trust you?”

Joyce nodded. “I will admit that the dream part is too outrageous, but the rest of the details about the murder several months back, I heard of it. It’s just that they haven’t found new clues yet. I’m going to check up on the progress tomorrow when I go to the city hall. Or at least try to ask around subtly.”

Claudia looked alarmed, shaking her head. “No, you can’t. You’ll draw attention to yourself by snooping around. That’s what happened to Cyndi when she and I went snooping around. I just want to warn you about Nic, not get you involved.”

Joyce shook her head. “I will be careful.” She handed the piece of cloth back to Claudia. “I think it’s better that you keep this.”

Claudia retrieved the cloth from Joyce before saying, “That was what Cyndi said before she…”

Joyce managed a smile. “I’ll be extra careful then. Go to sleep.”

Claudia knew that the case was closed so she had no choice but to get ready for bed. As for Joyce, she returned to her studio, straightening things up. Yet at the same time, she pondered more and more of Claudia’s words. Tomorrow, she would try to find out as much as possible. But how to test Nic? She found it too hard to imagine Nic as such a cold-blooded killer. But Claudia’s desperation was so real. How could she distinguish real from fake in this situation?

© Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Posted: Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

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