Clair

Clair
by Ayla Tesler-Mabe

 


It was 8:20am, and class had not yet begun. The teacher sat in her desk, and she observed the class of girls in front of her as she did every morning; she found amusement in their fifth grade innocence. A group of girls sat at the back of the class, playing hand games. Another few sat quietly in the presence of their friends, drawing puppies or finishing the homework they had forgotten to do last night.

Then, there was Lilith. The teacher didn’t quite know what to make of her, nor did anyone else. She would always sit by herself in class, doing nothing and talking to no one; that is, until Clair showed up.

When Clair walked into a room, a stunned silence would fall over everyone, and all eyes would be enthralled by her. She had that kind of magnetic presence that captivated you and every last strand of your consciousness until only one word filled in your mind: Clair. She was the epitome of perfection, yet she was never immodest. Perhaps she knew that she had this kind of effect on others, but she never stopped being sweet, altruistic Clair.

By now, the enchantment of her arrival had begun to subside, and all of the girls had gone back to their previous activities; all except for one pair of eyes that never seemed to leave Clair. It followed her as she quietly took her seat at the front of the class and delicately placed her bag beside her chair. Those eyes never left her even as she sat, unmoving, her hands neatly folded on the desk in front of her; she was clearly deep in thought.

There was some sort of indecipherable intent hidden within Lilith’s gaze, and not even when the bell rang to signify the beginning of class did her stare falter.

“Good morning girls, today in language arts you will presenting the meaning of your name to the class, and I do genuinely hope that each of you decided to do your research last night as homework,” she announced, her words quite obviously directed to some of the less hard working girls in the class.

The teacher then began to pick students at random to present, but she was barely listening to them. Her mind was elsewhere, in a much darker place. She could not stop staring out the window, directly at the face of a man who looked like he would better belong in a jail cell than standing outside of a school. His greasy, mud coloured hair stuck up in places all over his head, though it could have very possibly been real mud in his hair too. The sunlight reflected off of his thick rimmed glasses, but she could still see through them enough to make out his shifty, black eyes that held the darkness of the mind of a mad man. She’d tried to report him to the police before, but every time an officer was there to keep an eye on him he would be nowhere to be found. The man would be in jail soon, though; she could feel it.

Finally, only two students remained to present: Clair and Lilith. The teacher gestured at Lilith, indicating that it was her turn. Lilith slowly made her way to the front of the class, her face expressionless. Her golden hair was braided to the side, just like Clair’s. In fact, the two girls looked almost identical; one might assume that they were sisters if they didn’t know any better. However, Lilith’s features were somehow less extraordinary, and she didn’t emanate the same enthralling glow that Clair did.

As Lilith began to speak, the class fell silent. The teacher had been teaching long enough to know that shy girls were almost always ignored by the other students, left alone to be invisible like shadows in a dark room just the way that they wanted to be. Yet somehow, everyone wanted to know all of the secrets that were hidden in Lilith’s mind, and any time she spoke, the other girls listened with acute fascination, though of course she almost never spoke to anyone except Clair.  

“Lilith. It comes from the name of a demon from Akkadian mythology. It means “of the night,” she said.

“Thank you very much Lili-” She wasn’t done yet.

“The name Clair means clear. Bright. Like her hair,” she whispered intensely, “She could never go missing with hair like that.”

The teacher couldn’t help but look at the man outside of the window again. This time, he stared back. The bell rang suddenly, and she was snapped out of her trance, deciding to use the business of the day to keep thoughts of him out of her mind.   

A few weeks went by, and it came to the time in the year when students and teachers alike began to do anything they could to suppress boredom from consuming them the way that the frigid winter frost was now gripping the grass that was green no more. Almost everyone felt this way as the cold season approached; perhaps the inevitable darkness of the winter months were to blame.

In an attempt to combat the dullness that had set over the class, the teacher decided that it would be enjoyable to allow the girls to have a day off from wearing their everyday school uniforms, and instead dress in cheerful, festive clothing. As the announcement was made, hushed whispers of excitement ensued. Though all of the girls were thrilled to be able to finally wear their own clothes and have the opportunity to prove that their sense of fashion was superior to their classmates’, everyone was simply dying to find out what Clair was going to wear.

“Well, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll end up wearing yet,” Clair began, turning to the group of eagerly awaiting girls crowding around her, “but maybe something comfortable. Perhaps a fuzzy sweater would suffice! You’ll find out in only a few days though. Have a lovely weekend everyone!”

Monday morning arrived, and as promised, Clair was dressed in a pleasant looking sweater covered in velvety red fuzz. It was adorned with an adorable snowman like character on the front, and all the girls gingerly put out their hand to stroke the unbelievably soft material as she walked by, to which Clair unpretentiously smiled at each and everyone of them. The smile never left her face, even as another girl shuffled into class wearing the exact same sweater.

“You have a lovely taste in sweaters, Lilith,” Clair chuckled amiably.

Lilith simply grinned in return, the smile looking rather peculiar upon her face; she wasn’t a girl that usually showed any sort of emotion at all.

The moment passed, and the day began. It was filled with many jolly activities such as holiday arts and crafts and watching Christmas films, and by the time school had finished, everyone felt as if the day was one quite well spent. The girls stood in line along the edge of the classroom, waiting to be dismissed.

“Lilith, the tag at the back of your sweater is sticking out. Let me tuck it back in for you,” one girl offered.

“Oh no, it’s quite alright. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

The other girl, clearly astonished that Lilith actually replied, insisted, “It would be no bother at all! Please, let me.”

She went to tuck it in, but stop mid-way, noticing a name written on the tag in felt pen. Narrowing her eyes, she leaned in a bit closer to decipher the name.

“Lilith, I didn’t know that Clair had lent you a sweater,” the other girl curiously remarked.

“Clair? It’s my own sweater. I brought it from home.”

“But the name written on the tag-”

“It’s my sweater,” Lilith cut in. “And my name is there too. I wrote it there in felt pen myself, just incase I lost it.”

With a sudden ring the bell sounded, and all of the girls filed out of the classroom to go home.

As Lilith walked home, the tag was still protruding from the back of her sweater. A single name was written there in felt pen: Clair.

With only a week of school left before the winter holiday, it was only natural that the teachers began to run out of energy to teach, and would instead assign one huge project to cover those remaining days.

“Alright girls, as you know your big project on geometry will be due in four days, so partner up!” she exclaimed with an apparent forced zeal to the class.

There were usually twenty-four girls in the class, but one had left school to go to the dentist; she would be returning soon, but that left one girl by herself until then. As the class frantically scrambled to reach their best friends, Lilith sat apathetically in the back corner.

“Lilith, you’ll be partnering up with the girl who should be coming back from the dentist any minute now,” the teacher spoke, checking her attendance list to see who precisely that girl was. “Ah, of course. You’ll be with Clair.”

It almost seemed as if Lilith had mouthed that name along with her.

When Clair returned to school, she proposed that Lilith go over to her house to work on the project after school. Clair called her mother to verify that this was ok, and Lilith elucidated that her parents wouldn’t care where she was just as long as she was home by a decent hour.

As the pair left the school later that day, the man was standing in his usual place outside of the school beside the playground. He always watched the little girls, and quite obviously enjoyed each and every one of their presences. But just like everyone else, he found a particular joy in being near Clair. Everyday he got a little bit closer. Everyday he watched her for a little bit longer.

Today, he decided to be particularly audacious and as she walked by, he grabbed her hand and held it. His hands were rough and calloused, just like the rest of him.

“Little girl, I like the flower in your hair,” he remarked, eyeing the little clip on her head fashioned after a daisy; Lilith was wearing the same one in her hair too.

“I don’t like it when you call me that.”

“Then do you have a name, little girl?”

“Clair.”

“Well, I hope I can see you again soon, Clair,” he murmured, his voice ominously devoid of emotion.

Clair’s dazzling blue eyes held nothing except for a glimmer of confusion, and she pulled her hand away. The two girls then continued their walk home, neither uttering a word to the other. The more houses they passed, the more elegant and extravagant they became.

Finally, they arrived at a house so picturesque it looked like it had come right out of a dream. It wasn’t too monstrous in size in comparison to the houses around it, but for what it lacked in size it made up for in its absolutely stunning architecture.

It came as no surprise to Lilith; obviously, the perfect girl lived in a perfect house. After being invited inside by Clair’s mother, the two girls worked tirelessly on their project for hours. Eventually, the mother insisted that the pair go to the park to take a well deserved study break.

They arrived at the park just in time to watch the setting sun kiss the horizon, casting brilliant beams of orange and pink light over the playground and everything else around it. The park was empty aside from the single silhouette of a man under the branches of a particularly large pine tree. Clair and Lilith thought nothing of it, and began playing as kids do on a playground.

When the sky was finally dark and the only light coming from a few weakly lit street lamps scattered throughout the park, the girls came to the conclusion that playing a game of hide and go seek would be a very amusing thing to do at this late hour. It was decided that Lilith would hide first. Clair stood motionless beside the play structure, her hands over her eyes so Lilith could hide.

She began to count down: “Ten, nine,” she could hear the shuffling of feet behind her, “eight, seven,” a pungently foul odour hit her nose, “six, five,” Clair couldn’t help but peek out from under her hands, “four, three,” the man wasn’t under the tree anymore, “two,” Clair felt two hands grab her from behind, and a wash cloth covered in some chemical was put over her mouth, muffling her screams of fright; the hands that gripped her were surprisingly soft. She never finished counting.

The girls were supposed to be home after an hour, but once an hour and a half had passed, Clair’s parents began to worry. The girl who was working on the project with their daughter had never given them her parents’ phone number, and her name was escaping their memories now. Was it Lola? Or Lily?

They certainly had no trouble remembering the number for the emergency help line, however. Within minutes, a fleet of officers and detectives were sent to the park to look for the two missing girls. After questioning many of the nearby residents, it was divulged that a suspicious looking man was spotted in the area near the time of the incident. He was also reported to be the same man who stood outside of the local girl’s preparatory school everyday.

The man was found later that night in a back alley, and much to his bewilderment he was taken into the police station for questioning. Just before the search was about to be called off for the night, the outline of a little girl was spotted in the distance, her hair in the shadows bright as daylight.

“What is your name, child?” one officer inquired as she came closer.

It was too dark to see her face, and she remained as silent as the hushed whisper that had fallen over the crowd of detectives and officers.

“Clair! My lovely darling girl!” A voice tore through the roaring quiet.

Tears of utter relief and joy sprung free from the formerly panic-stricken eyes of Clair’s parents, and she ran towards them, hugging both tight like she never wanted to let go.

“She doesn’t look hurt,” another officer observed after careful inspection of the girl. “She’s probably quite shaken up by the whole ordeal, but we need to ask her a few questions in order to help us find the other girl”.

One of the detectives nodded in agreement, and cleared his throat, “Clair, to the best of your abilities, please recount the events that led up to the incident earlier today.”

Any emotion she may have shown a moment ago vanished in an instant, and a blank, stony look fell upon her face like a mask.

“Please, Clair, this information is of paramount importance.”

This did nothing to persuade her to speak, and she remained expressionless.

A few looks of exasperation were exchanged between the policemen and the detectives, and a picture of a man was produced from the pocket of one of the officers; he seemingly was the head detective.

“Just please answer one question for us: Is this the man who kidnapped you and Lilith?” he spoke gently to her, gesturing to the picture in his hand.

A flicker of recognition flashed in her eyes for only a moment, and everyone witnessing the exchange held their breath, praying that she might actually speak. But the moment passed, and the flicker vanished without a trace.

“It’s obvious that whatever occurred today has traumatized her tremendously, so perhaps we should continue our questioning tomorrow.”

Reluctant murmurs of agreement were uttered throughout the crowd, and it was concurred that a night of good rest would be good for Clair. With that, the reunited family left the scene, heading home.

The little girl remained unspeaking the entire time, looking down at her shoes as she walked. They finally arrived home, and the father had no difficulty coaxing his fatigued daughter into her room so he could tuck her into bed as he did every night. He left her there to get ready, and hastily left the room to answer his phone.

“Hello, Mr. Thompson? You asked me to call if anything about the criminal was revealed,” the man on the other side of the phone said.

“Hello, sir. I did indeed. I’m about to tuck little Clair into bed, but please tell me.”

“It appears that the man responsible for what happened today goes by the name of Chester Louis. He continuously denied that he had any involvement in the crime, but there’s no one else who could’ve done it. If they don’t find the other girl, Lilith, they’re gonna have to assume that she’s dead. It looks like he will most likely be put on death row for his actions.”

“I’m glad to hear that a sick man like that is going to be punished,” Mr. Thompson remarked. “Thank you for notifying me, and I appreciate everything you’ve done today.”

He hung up the phone and tiptoed carefully back into Clair’s room, just in case she had fallen asleep already. He looked down lovingly at her, and she smiled ever so slightly as she looked back up at him. Even in the near darkness, he could see that her eyes didn’t look quite as bright as they usually did, but it was probably because she had such a frightening day.

“Clair, dear, do you want me to look under the bed for monsters like I always do?”

“No, Daddy, it’s ok. I can do it myself now.” Her voice sounded harsher than it usually did, but the father thought nothing of it. He supposed that it must have been the traumatic events of the day that were causing her to act this way.

He kissed her gently on the forehead, and gave her one last smile before closing the door and leaving the room.

As soon as he left, the girl leapt out of bed, peering underneath it. A demonic smile suddenly crept over the girl’s face; as she expected, there were no monsters to be found under the bed. But into the girl’s malevolent eyes, another pair stared back, filled with a terror so irrefutable that words would never be adequate enough to describe it. It was a look of sheer horror that had overtaken Clair’s face, tearing at her soul like a malicious claw. They were the eyes of Clair.

The real Clair.