They say history repeats, and Edna Konrad knew it well.
In the quiet of the night, the only sound was the crunching of dirt and gravel under her thick-soled shoes. It was like a constant rhythm every time she stepped, reverberating through the stillness. It was surprising how much a single sound contrasted with Edna's last trek down the mountain. Back then, the soft pats of her bare feet left the air unbroken, allowing her mind to wander off. Now she was grateful for the distraction.
Edna hummed softly to the beat of her footsteps. The sound of the autumn wind rustling the leaves in the valley below soothed her rattled nerves. She absentmindedly kicked a pebble aside and watched it tumble down the path for a solid minute. It kept going until it bounced off a bump in the road, smacking the slope of the mountain.
It occurred to her just how long this road was. The steps to the lookout point and the spot where Doctor Marcel's car had met its watery end looked like they were right front of her. Yet every time Edna took a step they never seemed to move. It was oddly comforting, yet at the same time not so much.
Edna sighed, moving some hair from her eyes. Last time she had come this way, she had been younger and more clueless. Ignorant of the world around her, the girl had blindly gone forward to complete her tasks. Since then, reality had come crashing down on her time and time again, and now everything was so much bigger. The entire world seemed to expand itself around her, going on for miles without end. Everywhere Edna looked, she could only stare out with a feeling of uncertainty.
Harvey's voice jolted her from her daydream and she coughed sheepishly. Harvey watched her patiently.
"You alright?" He asked.
"Yeah," She said, pushing her thoughts away for now. "What's up, Harv?"
He grinned and cast his head towards the railing on their right. "Check it out."
They had reached the turning point. At the spot where the road curved, a metal guard had been installed. On top was a bright neon yellow warning sign with the word SLOW written on it in bold letters.
Underneath the guard's wooden posts, Edna could see tire tracks engraved into the dirt. Bits of grass poked out messily, trying to grow around the many grooves and cracks left behind.
"And it only took five loons and a rabbit driving off a cliff for them to make any proper safety measures." Edna noted.
They crept over to the edge of the road, peeking over the rail into the gulch below. The sedan was gone, but Edna could see the tracks leading to the river towards the spot where they had crashed.
"I'll bet Thelma and Louise weren't as lucky." Harvey said. "Say, you think they'll make a movie about us when this is all over? I think after all the stuff we've been through, it'd make a great action flick! I've always wanted to get Russel Crow to portray me on screen..."
"Hold it, Harvey." Edna said suddenly, sitting up. "Do you hear that?"
They listened carefully. Over the choir of crickets chirping, they could faintly make out a different sound coming from the hill behind them. Per chance someone else had walked this lonely road, their blood would have chilled at the sound of a sobbing child drifting through the night. They might have ran home as fast as possible with wild tales about phantoms and the wandering souls of poor young girls who had been taken away far too soon.
Edna's heart was racing, but she had nothing to fear from ghosts.
She hurried quickly but quietly up the stairs to the lookout. When she came close to the top, and when the crying was at it's loudest, she paused. Edna knew what she was going to see. She knew what she had to do. This was the moment of truth, and it frightened her.
As the sobbing continued, Edna gripped Harvey tighter and took a deep breath. Afraid as she was, she had to be strong for this. Going up the steps one foot at a time, the bench soon came into view.
Lilli was curled into a tight ball, head buried into her knees. She was squeezing them so tightly her fingers dug into the skin. Her cries only now seemed to be dying down as all the energy left in her was drained away by the events of the day crashing down on her. The righteous flame was gone, smothered by the cold harsh truth: she had lost everything.
Edna's heart plummeted into her stomach. Much as she expected it, it was still hard to look at.
Then Harvey said, "Edna, look! They installed binoculars on the railing!"
Edna whirled her head around to look at her stuffed companion with wide-eyed befuddlement. She braced herself, expecting Lilli to see them and go off on another screaming fit. To her surprise and concern, the little blonde had no response whatsoever. She merely lifted her head to stare at the ground.
"Can I look, Edna? Can I, can I?" Harvey pleaded as his eyes remained glued on to the binoculars.
Edna continued to watch Lilli, who refused to acknowledge either of them. "...Okay, Harvey."
Going up to the rail, she carefully placed Harvey in front of the lenses while she fished some spare change from her pockets.
"Try not to get struck by lightning." She said, smiling a little as she remembered the last time she spoke to someone at this spot. The machine clicked to life as Edna inserted a coin into the slot.
The rabbit gave a short laugh. "If there's anybody who needs that kind of luck, it's you."
He gave her a wink, surprising her. Turning back, Edna saw that Lilli was looking at her. Her dull, somber face hadn't changed. Her eyes narrowed a little before going back to staring at the ground.
Edna inhaled and breathed irritably out the corner of her mouth. Her stomach was full of butterflies as she stepped up to the bench.
"Can I sit?" She asked.
Lilli grunted. Gingerly, Edna sat at the other end and placed her hands in her lap, drumming her fingers together.
The two sat in an uncomfortable silence, unable to face each other for a while. Edna could feel the metaphorical spotlight on her. Either Lilli was giving her another chance to make things better, or she had lost all the energy to say 'no.'
The tension was interrupted by the sound of Harvey humming a little sailor's diddy. Edna smiled as she watched him pretend to make commands under his breath.
"He really knows how to lighten the mood, doesn't he?" She said with a light chuckle. "Good ol' Harvey..."
Lilli said nothing. The smile faded from Edna's face as a thought came to her. She realized that if she was going to make things better, she was going to have to be honest.
"I... lied, you know." said Edna. "About Harvey. He wasn't my only friend."
Lilli snorted, and Edna could read what the girl was thinking clearly: what a surprise. Edna waited until Lilli motioned for her to continue. Edna paused, however. If she was going to do this, she couldn't hold anything back. She needed to reveal everything.
"The truth is, Lilli... Doctor Marcel and I have known each other for years. When I was a little girl, he lived right next door to me." Her nose wrinkled. "He and my father would hang out often, which meant that I had to play with his little toad of a son..."
Edna looked at Lilli in bewilderment. "How do you...?"
"There was a man in the tower." Lilli said. Her voice was weak and raspy. "He said Alfred was his brother."
Edna was almost certain she had heard Lilli wrong. Resting her back against the metal bench, she began laughing in disbelief.
"Alfred's long lost brother." She said, shaking her head. "I should be shocked, but by this point I've been through enough that not even THAT phases me."
For the first time in hours, Lilli cracked a smile. "I know, right?"
Neither of them could help but laugh at just how dramatic everything had changed in one day. Amidst all the tragedy, it was nice to have a little bit of levity. With the air of awkwardness gone, Edna felt a little more comfortable scooting over a bit.
"Hey," She said suddenly. "Remember that time we scared the crap out of Shawney?"
"Oh, I remember that!" said Lilli. "That was when he ripped my favorite book, right?"
"Yeah," Edna said, grinning. "Imagine the look on his face when he found the old man from history class in his bed that night!"
Lilli started giggling. "He screamed like his pants were on fire and sprinted out of the room..."
"...Ran right into Mother Superior..."
"...And hid under her gown!" They both finished at the same time.
They laughed and laughed for a solid minute. It felt like old times again as they reminisced on memories of their time in the convent. Their smiles dropped quickly, however, as reality came crashing through the door once again.
"I can't believe they're gone." Lilli said after a moment.
Edna winced. "Me too." She said. It was all she could say.
"...You know what's really scary?" Lilli said, looking at her. "I knew they weren't bad. Mother Superior hated all of us. I wanted to be friends with them and bring us all together as a family. I tried. I really did try." She bit her lip in frustration. "But they hurt me. They kept hurting me and and I hated them so much... so I felt glad when they got hurt too."
A chill wind blew, and Lilli's breath shook. Instinctively, Edna removed her sweater and handed it to the little one, who accepted it.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you." She whispered through a shiver.
Edna was a bit surprised. Somewhat relieved, too, but it was still unexpected.
"Lilli, you don't have to-"
"Yes! Yes I do!" Lilli interrupted. "I blamed you for what happened to them, but it was my fault. Besides..." She stopped, once again closing her eyes as if in pain. "...You can't blame someone who doesn't exist."
Then it dawned on her: Lilli climbing into the vent to confront Marcel - The agonizing five minutes of total silence before the child had begun her sudden screaming fit - The mystery of what had happened during that time seemed to solve itself right at that second.
Marcel, you creep, she thought. You screwed her head off.
Aha, her brain said. So it wasn't her fault after all! No responsibility here, thank you, just give it to the neighbor. Doctor Marcel will gladly accept it, just knock on the door!
But no. As much as she wanted everything to be one big misunderstanding, Lilli's feelings would still be the same. Edna had to fix this, but the real question was how? This just made it more complicated.
She looked back at Harvey. His humming continued, but he was a little more quiet now. As she watched him, Edna's thoughts from earlier returned. Convincing Lilli that she wasn't hallucinating would take tact, so Edna decided to go back to her original confession.
"Alfred was like them a lot of ways." She said. "He could be a real stinker, but underneath his stick-in-the-mud personality, he was hurting." Edna rested her foot on the bench, resting her chin on her knee. "I wish I could have remembered that before it was too late..."
Lilli was watching her carefully. "What happened to him?"
Edna's lips pursed. You've got nothing else to lose, She thought. She's giving you another chance. If she hasn't rejected you by now, then you can last until the end. Tell her the truth.
"I killed him."
It was a little more blunt than it should have been necessary, and it reflected on Lilli's face.
"Not on purpose or anything." Edna said quickly. "One day we were fighting, and I got so mad that I wrote something awful in my diary. I don't remember what it was, but it must have been terrible because when he ended up finding it, he just... snapped."
The memory of that awful day was still there, now more clear to her than ever. Underneath Alfred's smug grin, there was an honest look of betrayal. That look alone made Edna wish she remembered what exactly it was she wrote. At the same time it made her hope she would never find out at all.
"He took Harvey," She said. "He was going to rip him apart. Everything was so crazy, I panicked, and then..."
Edna looked at Harvey again. He wasn't moving. After a moment, Edna turned to look away from him.
"...It isn't always good to listen to what Harvey says." She whispered.
Lilli was intrigued by this. Edna's past was something that had never come up before. Lilli had always used her as a shoulder to cry on when it came to her problems, but Edna had been a master of dodging questions.
She could have easily dismissed this as her mind once again trying to convince her that her sole family in the entire world wasn't an illusion. But what Edna said about Harvey rang too true in her eyes. This revelation suddenly made her appear more solid to Lilli and less of a ghost.
Edna could see the tinge of hope in the child's eyes.
"So... when you said the girl who escaped from the asylum was you..."
Edna nodded. "Marcel's revenge was to frame my father. Then he stuck me in his nuthouse and messed with my brain until I could become Alfred 2.0." She looked at the asylum, sitting under the moonlight like a giant gravestone. "Escaping was my first adventure. I look back on that time fondly, because what happened when I actually got out..."
She paused. Edna looked up, staring at the church and her house in the distance. Then her head moved to the asylum once more. A curious look came over her face as the wind blew through her hair.
"When I was a little girl," She said. "I used to daydream in class."
Lilli seemed puzzled by the random subject change. Still, she waited to see where Edna was going with this.
"Oh, Alfred was a model student." She continued, rolling her eyes. "But that's not hard when your teacher's a hard-nosed sadist who reduces everything to trivia and sound bites. Could you blame me for being distracted?"
Lilli didn't understand everything Edna said. Even so, the change in her tone was hard to miss. Her words felt true, as if nothing was hiding behind them anymore.
A stray leaf fluttered in front of their faces. Edna snatched it from the air, staring at it as she twirled it around in her fingers.
"My childhood was small and simple. There were times I felt caged, but it was secure. My world was one of carnivals and playgrounds, swimming in the pond and getting ice cream on summer days."
She let the leaf fly out of her hand. It drifted through the air, twirling around in circles before the wind carried it down the mountain where it disappeared into the gorge below.
"I thought I could get it back, once I escaped." Edna said. "I thought it would all go back to normal once I got home and proved my father innocent. Even when someone died because of me, I thought it would all go away... but when I finally reached home..."
Somewhere, a wind chime rang gently in the night.
"...It was gone." She said. "The carnival had moved on. The parlor was a boarded up shack. The lake dried up. All that was left was the skeleton of a house buried at the edge of a black forest."
Harvey still wasn't moving. Lilli was entranced. Edna shifted her leg back in front of her, bowing her head.
"I made a decision that day. Two, actually." Edna gripped her knees tight. "The first one was a desperate move to keep at least one part of my childhood alive... and all it did was put Marcel in a wheelchair. The other one..."
The older girl gave a sad chuckle.
"I had already hurt so many people by then." She said, a few tears appearing at the edges of her eyes. "It was only fair I put a stop to it. There was nowhere else I could go anyway."
Birgit's lifeless body swung into Lilli's mind. Her throat tightened instinctively, making it difficult for her to find her voice. Somehow, she managed. "The convent..."
"In spite of what Mother Superior says," Edna said, wiping her eyes. "I have my doubts about the man upstairs. I imagine he's like a used car salesman, giving you a good deal while ripping you off at the same time. Well, I lived, but at the price of losing Harvey. It was like getting a low-mileage luxury car, only you drive about five miles before the engine falls out and you find it's full of sawdust."
Lilli frowned. Edna was masking herself again. The teen smiled weakly as best she could, but resigned with a sigh.
"Sorry." She said. "It's just hard. Those were some of the worst days of my life..."
Lilli's expression softened. She remembered her first time coming to the convent. The feeling of loss and loneliness of having your whole world taken from you...
Edna faced Lilli to speak directly. "Do you remember the night we first met? When I found you by the cliffside?"
Lilli smiled, nodding.
"I came to that spot a lot." Edna said. "I kept wishing I could go back. Home was gone, but the Asylum... the asylum was still there. I could see me, I could see Harvey, I could see all the friends and we had made... It was a gilded cage, and I left it all in an attempt to find another gilded cage that no longer existed."
Edna lifted her head, casting her gaze at the night sky. Emotion suddenly swelled in Lilli's chest. As the light from the moon shined on Edna, locks of violet hair strewn across her face, something changed. Her normally manic visage had relaxed as Edna's inner demons were finally releasing themselves. Though heavy with fatigue and mental weariness, the peace Edna was feeling with herself seemed to shine in her eyes. Lilli knew that her fractured mind could never come up with an image so beautiful.
"I'm always running." Edna said. Her voice was quiet, the wind carrying it to Lilli's ears. "Trying to get away from the future. Trying to find the 'home' that I'd lost. A place where nothing has to change. With you, I thought I had truly found it. Eventually Mother Superior would croak and the other kids would move on, but it would always be our own little world. But then Marcel came back and I... I just..."
She dropped her head in shame. "I panicked, and ran away again. At the time I thought you could handle it. I left you to handle my problems when really... I should have been the one doing everything to protect you."
Edna took a breath, and looked at Lilli again. Her eyes were vibrant with the spark of energy Lilli had always known. The girl was at the edge of her seat, heart racing. Her doubt was hanging by a thread. Could she dare believe?
"Lilli... I want to be better. I want to stop being afraid. I'm ready to face whatever tomorrow brings. For both of us."
Edna held out a hand. Her smile was hopeful and earnest.
"If you let me... I can be the family you deserve."
Lilli stared at the hand, hesitant. Then, ever so slowly, she reached out to take it. She paused only once out of uncertainty, before her tiny hand clasped into Edna's. For a moment she waited, rubbing her thumb against the coarse skin of the teenager's knuckles. She did this for a few seconds before her lip started to tremble.
"I want to believe." She said. Her long-suffering throat cracked slightly. "I really, really do... but everything's gone crazy... I'VE gone crazy!"
Edna's face faltered as Lilli started crying again, messily wiping at the tears gushing down her face.
"I'm sick, and I don't know what's real or not anymore...!" Lilli cried. "What if more people get hurt because of me? What if I... I..."
Suddenly, Edna pulled Lilli into a hug, wrapping her arms around her tight. The surprised child's face pressed into Edna's shoulder as the older girl's rough and dirt-stained hands gently caressed Lilli's golden locks.
"We'll figure it out." Edna whispered, her cheek nuzzling the side of Lilli's head. "It's not gonna be easy, and it's not gonna be fun. It could take years, or even our entire lives. But you don't have to be scared, Lilli... I'll be there, struggling right at your side. I'll be helping you, and you'll be helping me. We'll put it together if we stay together..."
As Lilli's tiny body was enveloped by Edna's taller frame, she could feel a blanket of warmth around her. She could hear the shaking breaths in Edna's voice, and the sound of her heart beating close. Lilli started to cry again, but not out of anguish. Her tears cleansed her of all doubt as a wave of comfort, relief, and understanding washed through her. Shaking with joy, Lilli returned the hug, burying herself in the arms of the one she loved. The real Edna Konrad she had been fighting for.
Edna smiled. "Hey, you."
Not even the sound of over a dozen police sirens passing by could disturb their embrace. Harvey watched as car after car sped by, racing up the mountain towards the asylum. Normally he would have been squealing in delight at the sight of Doctor Marcel's fortress being besieged. But the rabbit merely observed in silence. This wasn't a moment for him.
He smiled as he sat quietly, listening to Edna and Lilli laugh and cry behind him.
It was a sad smile.