Fall From Innocence

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“Twenty-four.”

“Incorrect. Try again.”

“Twenty-four.”

“Don’t be obtuse! Do it again, August.”

“The answer is twenty-four.”

“August!”

Juda looked nervously at August, who was sitting next to him. August’s face almost looked inert. His eyes stared emptily at Ms. Hopkins, their governess, as he mechanically repeated the incorrect answer. August knew that twice six was not twenty-four, but still he persisted.

“Twenty-four.”

Ms. Hopkins was growing red, and her eyebrow began to twitch in that familiar way. Juda knew what would follow.

“You try my patience, August. Come here.”

“No.”

Juda swallowed hard, as if he had said the unspeakable word and not August. He looked at his brother with awe. August’s novel behavior baffled him so that his head began to swim. Ms. Hopkins’ body shook with rage as she beheld the boy incredulously. Her eyes looked like two hot coals, glowing under the influence of a rush of air. Her eyebrow twitched again.

“Do you dare defy me once more? Come forward at once August!”

“No.”

Ms. Hopkins’ large bosom heaved when that monosyllable reached her ears for the second consecutive time. She rushed out of the room, but they knew she would be back. She would fetch the leather strap from the drawer in the hall, and come storming back. Juda listened to the determined footfalls of the governess and to the noise of drawer as it was hastily pulled open. August looked white. The blank expression remained as he gathered himself and walked swiftly across the room. He disappeared under a cloth covered table.

“Where is he?”

Juda turned around, and beheld the incensed features of the governess. He could not speak, so great was his trepidation.

“Juda!”

Tears welled up in Juda’s eyes. He choked as he pointed feebly in the general direction of his brother. Ms. Hopkins eyed the long curtains at the far end of the room suspiciously. She detected slight movement there, but did not consider that it was merely rustling under the influence of the breeze. She moved rapidly across the room. Juda’s face was buried in his hands when he heard the thud.

He looked up, wiping his eyes so that he could see clearly. He saw his brother now, standing stiff like a statue, his head tilted toward the floor. Juda walked over to see what had happened to the governess. He stopped next to his brother and looked down at the lifeless body of the governess, a pool of blood around her head. Juda looked at August, August looked at his shoe. August was breathing hard now, his face even paler than before. They looked at each other as they heard footsteps in the hall.

“Ms. Hopkins, what was that sound?”

 

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