Storymaker
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Storymaker

The Death of Betty Barker

A short story

Photo by MadMax Chef Unsplash

It was my foster mother, Irene, who told me Betty Barker was dead. Midway through applying my night time moisturizer, she appeared in my bedroom, stopping smack bang beside my chest of draws. I swiveled in my vanity chair to observe her better. Her complexion, I noticed was a shade paler than usual, and the skin around her eyes, taunt. Wow, if I wasn’t such a level-headed person, I’d say a creepy ghost had tapped her on the shoulder, startling her witless. Before I could utter another word, she sat on the edge of my bed. ‘Sit,” she patted the space next to her. I stared at her bug-eyed. “Why, what’s happened?”

She shook her head and said. “It’s Betty Barker, she’s dead.”

“Betty,” I replied, “Betty from school.”

“Yes,” Mum whispered. She covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers. “Dead at seventeen.”

My stomach dropped, and for a moment I thought I was going to hurl up the spaghetti and meatballs I’d had for dinner. I cleared my throat, then with my arms stretched out, I stumbled towards the bed. “Dead,” I said, “how?”

“Not sure.” Nancy Wheeler just phoned to tell me. About an hour ago an ambulance siren blasted up her street. Curious to know what was going on she rushed to her lounge room and peered out the window. Across the street, she saw an ambulance pull into the Barker’s driveway. The second they were parked, two medics rushed inside. Nancy stayed watching. She said the Police showed up about fifteen minutes later.”

“But, but,” I replied. How does Mrs. Wheeler know Betty’s dead?”

“Betty’s mum, Claudia, stumbled from the house onto the front lawn, screaming at the top of lungs, ‘No, no, not my Betty, not my daughter, not my beautiful girl dead.’ Seconds later, her husband appeared and tackled her to the ground.”

My hand rushed to my throat. “And where is she now, Betty’s mum?”

“She has been taken to hospital.”

Weak in the knees, I finally sank onto the bed. A tear ran down my cheek and was quickly followed by another. “Betty,” I stammered, “Betty.”

My mum took my hand, and in return, I squeezed her palm. She was such a loving soul, Irene. Ever since I’d come to live with her at the age of seven, she’d treated me with kindness and respect, a far cry from my birth mother who used to lock me up in the hallway cupboard. It was only luck that I escaped her. My constant screams alerted the neighbours and the abuse was reported. Then it was good-bye mummy, and hello foster mother, Irene. The two of us had been together ever since. Without warning, mum suddenly gave my hand a hard yank. “Look at me,” she ordered. When I turned in her direction, she grasped my chin, forcing me to make eye contact. “Betty is dead,” she said in a hushed, urgent whisper, “Don’t tell me it had anything to do with you.”

My breath caught in my throat. “What are you saying? That she was m m murdered?” I stuttered.

“Something is going down, according to Nancy, the police are swarming the place. They’ve put tape around the house… it’s a crime scene.” Her hand tightened on my chin. “Tell me? Do you know anything?”

I shook my head from side to side, trying to loosen her grip. When I couldn’t, I reached up and swatted her hand away. “Betty Barker,” I said “could be nasty. Many kids at school loathed her. Maybe one of them has done something.” I swallowed, “Not me though. I,” my voice caught in my throat, and I coughed in an attempt to cover it… because secretly I knew a lot more about Betty Barker’s death than I was willing to admit.

I met Betty for the first time, back in Grade 2. I, like most of the girls in my school year, were memorized by her. Besides her blonde hair, green eyes, and snowy-clear complexion, she had star quality… charisma, but not always in a good way.

Betty was never mean to me. She had no reason. I was athletic, great at netball, my school grades were above average, I got on with most people and didn’t go about causing trouble. Yes, I was a likable girl. Other girls in my class were not so lucky, Vanessa Foster for example. Gee, Betty went after Vanessa like she was her own personal punching bag. Vanessa was fat and pimply, she waddled when she walked. Betty called her fatso… and because she had a following, everyone else called poor Vanessa, fatso too.

One day about six weeks ago I came across Vanessa, in-between classes, sobbing in the bathroom. When I asked what was wrong, she lifted her school blouse and showed me these red, bloody finger-nail scratches on her tummy, courtesy of Betty Barker. Being the underdog to my birth mother, the lack of control I had over her brutality bought back memories. As Vanessa stood in the bathroom telling me about Betty my heart went out to her. “What a piece of work,” I said, gazing at the angry red abrasions just below her belly button. “You should tell a teacher, or your mum,” I told her.

Her shoulders stiffened, “are you crazy,” she squeaked. “That will only make it worse.” She grabbed my hand, “can’t you help,” she said. “Please Samantha, Betty likes you.”

“What,” I took a backward step, pushing her away, “Not me,” Not on your life. Was she mad? Betty could be super scary. You were either for her or against her, those who weren’t paid the price. I’d been lucky, I’d given the impression I was for, but whenever she vocally bullied someone, I never did anything more than laugh along with the herd. I waved my other hand in the air, “no way.”

“Please Samantha,” she begged.

Her chin trembled, and despite my reservations about involving myself in a mess that was none of my business, I reached out and patted her shoulder.
Just then the bathroom door swung open and a Year 7 girl walked in. She gave us both a strange look then disappeared inside the toilet cubical. I took it as my cue to leave. I couldn’t help Vanessa anyway. Without looking back, I swept out the door.

I didn’t expect the conversation to resume and was most surprised when less than a week later, Vanessa showed up at my house. It was Saturday morning, I was awake, but still in bed. Mum wasn’t home. She’d gone out for a jog. When the door-bell rang, I sat up straight, my nerves on high alert. Who’s that, I thought, my digital clock read 7:30 am? It was too early for house calls. Thinking mum had been hit by a car and a kindly neighbor had come to inform me, I raced to the door and pulled it open. And there she was, fatso Vanessa. Two other girls, Amanda Miller and Ellie Wakes were with her. Amanda was as tall as Vanessa was fat. She wore thick glasses; unflattering clothes and her legs needed a good shave. The other girl, Ellie, was short with frizzy red hair. When she spoke she had a dreadful lisp, replacing the S sound with the TH sound. All three were walking victims. And even worse, they were standing on my doormat! “What are you doing here?” I said ushering them inside before any of the neighbours could spot them.

“We need your help Thamantha,” Ellie whined, “Betty ith out to get uth.”

I slammed the front door shut behind them. Not this again. “How is this, my problem?” I said, staring at each of them in turn.

Simultaneously, they all lifted their t-shirts and lost for words, I stumbled backward. I had seen bruises before, but the black and blue bumps all over their lower abdomens took my breath away. “Oh my god,” I whispered. “What happened?”

“Betty Barker happened,” Amanda said.

“Betty, and about ten of her closest friends,” Vanessa added. When we came out of the library last night, she and her gang were waiting. They followed us home. When we reached the park, they dragged us is and physically attacked us.”

My mouth fell open, “but that,” I pointed to their injuries, “that’s assault. They could go to jail… they deserve to. What did your parents say? Have you contacted the police?”

“No, and we’re not going to either,” Vanessa replied. “No point, like most predicators, Betty and her friends would only walk away with a warning anyway.”

I rocked back on my heels. “Are you kidding me,” I said. “So what, are you just going to let them get away with it? What the hell guys. What’s wrong with you?” I cracked my knuckles. “For God’s sake do something.” I moved closer to Vanessa, yanking at her t-shirt. “Look what they have done to you,” I shouted. “Show some initiative and do something.”

“We intend to,” Amanda said stepping between myself and Vanessa, putting some distance between us. “But we need your help.”

I threw my hands up, “But what has it to do with me? Like I said before, go to your parents, the police. Or if you’re too scared, I’ll do it for you.”

“If you do, and Betty findth out,” Ellie lisped, “you’ll become another one of her victumth. Do you want that?”

I thought about it a second, then like a deflating balloon, the air oozed out of me. They were probably right, Betty could be ruthless. Not someone you’d want to come up against. “No,” I said in a tiny voice.

“So help us.” Vanessa pushed Amanda out of the way and came up so close that our noses were almost touching. “It’s vengeance time. We have a plan. If we erase Betty from the face of the earth, she can’t order her ban of brainless minions to come after us.”

“And then we’ll be free,” Amanda said. “All we have to do is wipe Betty out.”

My mouth fell open. This was madness. I reached for the doorknob intending to toss them out, but Vanessa slapped my hand aside. “Stop Samantha,” she said, “listen a second. Betty likes you. If you befriend her, she’ll never suspect you’re out to get her.”

I placed my hand on my temple, “but I’m not out to get her?”

“Yes, you are,” Vanessa replied. “It’s the only way. She’s coming after us at the moment, but one day it might be you. It’s happened before, remember Cassie Taylor.”

I bit my lip, I did indeed. Cassie and Betty used to be chums, then last year, Cassie aced a maths exam, scoring a high distinction. Jealous, Betty started in on her. Six weeks later, Cassie was sporting a broken arm. She said she’d fallen, no one believed her though. Not long after, Cassie’s parents changed her to another school. “I remember.” Tears big as raindrops welled in my eyes, if it had happened to Cassie, it could to me too. Betty and I had both been selected for the same netball team for the following season. It wouldn’t take much to piss her off. “What do you want me to do?” I cried out, “what do want me to do?”

Amanda chuckled, “Can’t you guess. Come on Samantha. Remember back in primary school how we used to celebrate our birthdays with cakes and nibbles. Remember, Betty could never eat any of it because she was allergic to both eggs and peanuts. Sometimes these types of reactions fade as the sufferer becomes older, but bot Betty, I saw an EpiPen in her school bag only last week.”

I blinked. “That’s right she has anaphylaxis.”

“And bulimia,” Amanda added. “Remember how Betty disappeared for about a month in first term, and all the kids saying she was seeking treatment in an eating disorder clinic. Well, I happen to know it’s true. A friend of my mum’s worked at the clinic, and she confirmed it. And it gets even better, last Tuesday I entered the bathroom just after lunch and I heard someone throwing up. I slipped unseen into one of the cubicals, and guess who came out. Yeah, that’s right Betty Barker, Poor Betty; all red in the face from tossing up her lunch. I started watching her after that. You wouldn’t believe the amount of food she shoves down her face at lunch-time?” Amanda held out her hands, “loads. Seems she can’t help herself. Gee, a food allergy, and an eating disorder,” she giggled. “What a bad combination.”

“All we have to do now, Samantha dearest,” Vanessa nodded her head, “is lace Betty’s food with peanuts.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Irene appear on the driveway. Shit, she was back. A loud thump started up in my chest.

Ellie turned and gazed out the window also, “Ith that your fother mum?” She lisped.

I nodded. “It is, and she can’t know your here.”

“No, no she mustn’t see us,” Vanessa added.

“She’ll be so angry if she finds out what you want me to do.” I grabbed hold of Ellie’s hand. “Quick, I’ll slip you out unseen. If we move fast, she’ll never know you were here. Hurry now.” I took off at a trot, with the girls following. I herded them into the bathroom and out the back door. “Follow the pathway to the side gate. Open it and let yourselves out. And for goodness sake, duck down low when you go past the windows or my mum will see you.” One by one, the girls slipped into the backyard, fatso Vanessa the last to go. I gave her back a shove to help the process along. Once standing on the pavement, she turned back towards me. “We’ll be in touch,” she said. I nodded and slammed the door shut behind her.

“Samantha,” mum called. “I’m back.” Moments later she appeared in the bathroom doorway and gazed about. “Did I hear voices?” She stared at me suspiciously. “Who were you talking to? I thought I heard voices…”

Nausea, a blob of bile rose in my throat.

“Samantha,” Mum repeated. “What’s going on? I heard voices.

“You did. Me. Only me, I was singing.”

She crossed her arms, then uncrossed them. “I hope so Samantha.” She gave me a stern look. “The last thing we need is lies between us. I guess I’ll have to give you the benefit of the doubt.” Then she took off down the hallway.

I breathed out. I was safe. She suspected nothing.

That was two weeks ago. Now with Betty dead, she wasn’t being quite as gullible. She grabbed my hand again. “Samantha you are lying to…”

I cut her off. “No, I am not. Betty was a mean, mean, girl. Someone probably has done something to her, but not me.”

Mum stood up. She placed a hand on her brow, “Oh my god,’ she whispered. “It’s happening again isn’t it? Oh my God, oh my God.”

“Mum.”

“Shut up, and let me think,” she spat out.

A sudden loud rap on the front door ended our conversation and for the briefest moment, the two of us locked eyes. Then she was off, striding down the hallway, I followed her. When she opened the door, I saw two police officers standing on the doormat. They looked over her shoulder directly at me, and unable to help it, I burst out laughing.

####

I am in a mental health facility. The doctors have said I’ll be here a long time. I’m not sorry, it’s a safe place. Today, we are having our group session. The other patients are nice, very supportive, which is opposite to the treatment I have received from Irene. I haven’t seen much of her since Betty’s death. She said she couldn’t deal with me anymore, and that was the last of her.

The group leader calls out my name and I stand up. It’s my turn to talk. “A year ago,” I said in a loud voice, “I murdered a girl. Her name was Betty Barker. Like me, she was seventeen-years-old, but I killed her. In my defense, I have schizophrenia. When I stop taking my meds, I hallucinate, I see people that aren’t there. I can’t remember ever deciding not to take my medication, but at some point, I must have. Soon after, I started being visited by three misfit girls, Vanessa, Amanda, and Ella. I’d seen them before. They appeared for the first time when I started going through puberty. They told me to do bad things like drizzle rat poisoning in Irene’s coffee. Luckily, I had conversations with these “so-called girls” out loud, and Irene overheard me. She took me to the doctors, and I was medicated. Then last year, when I stopped taking my meds, the girls came back. They convinced me Betty was a violent bully and needed killing. Betty was a girl in my school year, I didn’t know her that well, she was very quiet. She had anaphylaxis and was self-conscience about it. As a teenager, her anxieties grew and she ended up developing bulimia. My foster mum, Irene, was always saying I should be nice to Betty because she didn’t have many friends. She began inviting her over to our house, so the two of us could hang out. After a while, Betty’s issues began grating on my nerves. Then Vanessa, Amanda, and Ellie came back. They convinced me to kill her. Two weeks later, I made some spaghetti and meatballs and sprinkled it with peanuts. Knowing Betty’s parents were out, I dropped the meal off at her house, and surprised her with dinner. She suffered an anaphylaxis attack and died before her mum and dad arrived home. I wish I could take it back, I wish Betty was still alive, I wish it was me who died instead of her.”

####

Irene lay in the cabin bed beside Dan Barker. She could hear the gentle waves wash up against the sides of the yacht. It was peaceful being here with him, sailing somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. “By God, I’m clever,” she said.

Dan kissed her lips. “You are. I knew it from the moment I first laid eyes on you. I can’t believe the two of us have been having an affair for three years. I’m glad the sneaking around is over. I’m surprised your Samantha catch on.”

“Not Sam. She lived in dreamland half the time. When I secretly threw her medication away, I thought she’d tell me her pills were missing, but no, never a word. Can you believe it? I guess she wanted to be like other normal, healthy teenagers. I couldn’t stand her in the end, she was so stupid.”

“But how did you get her to go after Betty?”

“Easy. I just kept pushing the two of them together. I knew Samantha would get sick of her. Then all I had to do was wait for the voices in her head to do their magic.” She gazed over at Dan. “Are you sorry Betty is dead?”

“No. I only ever married Claudia to reproduce. My parents said they’d cut me out of their will if I didn’t father a child. I thought they’d leave all their money to me after they passed, but they left it all to Betty. The only way I could get my hands on the cash was if Betty was to die.”

“So you had to knock her off?” Irene smiled. “And what a piece of luck Claudia died too. How did you know she’d commit suicide?”

“After tricking Claudia into marriage, I insisted we have a child, but once done, I ignored them both. For the sake of inheriting though, I told Claudia if she tried to leave me, I’d get a court order, prove her an incompetent mother, and take Betty away from her. Even though she hated me, she stayed for Betty’s sake. After Betty died, she hung herself, she’d been miserable in our marriage for years… she had nothing left to live for.”

“Well, we’re both very clever,” Irene said, She stood up and slipped on a t-shirt, “Samantha safely in a lunatic asylum, Betty and Claudia both dead. All that’s left is you and me.”

“And our yacht, and twelve months of sailing the high seas together, just the two of us. What an adventure.”

“You forgot to mention that huge inheritance of yours.”

She opened the cabin door, walked up the steps, stood on the deck and looked out at the horizon. The setting sun is glorious at this time of night, she thought, blue seas, golden clouds. “How lucky am I,” she said?

Two hands suddenly shoved her in the back and she somersaulted over the railing landing on her back in the water.

Up above Dan retrieved his trusty boat hook and slammed it down on her head. “But don’t forget my dear,” he said. “Some of us are luckier than others.”

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