A Pail of Water
Heads up, this story is about murder and all that comes with it. Read with caution
I also dedicate this story to my SFTC family – which for a FB group about murder is oddly supportive to all the members in the community <3
Oftentimes Jill felt that religion was the bane of her existence. She hated growing up in a stifling religious household, and all the inequalities that came with it. Having to hide her science textbooks and chemistry supplies her twin brother, Jack, smuggled home for her. Playing dumb when discussions were happening around the table. Helping her mum with tedious household tasks when she would rather be planning out and executing her next experiment.
She knows that she could technically say fuck it, and go about her life however she wants to. However, she needs her parents to pay for university. She and Jack had it all worked out. They would go to University under the guise of enrolling in a program their parents deign acceptable, and then once there change majors. Jill knew that her parents cared enough to force their beliefs on her and make sure she seemed to be following them; but they have no interest in putting any energy into making sure that she follows through.
For years Jill, and Jack have been plotting this ruse. Sometimes after a particularly hellfire and brimstone day they would go over their plan so that they feel somewhat in control of their future. Jill’s parents begrudgingly agreed to allow her to go to University for an undergrad in history believing that she will work towards becoming a teacher; but secretly hoping that she’ll get her MRS degree before anything else. Whereas Jack has made his parents believe he’s doing his undergrad in chemistry so that he can eventually get into med school.
The reality however, was that Jill would be taking chemistry and Jack would be getting a history degree. With a little bit of photoshop and a lot of luck they both hoped that they would be able to pull it off without their parents being any wiser. They just had to hold out for a few more months till the end of their senior year and then she and Jack would be off to university with their own apartment and away from their parents’ oppressive presence.
The first two years of University were blissful. For the first time in her life Jill was able to fully embrace her interests without worrying about her parents disapproval or shame. Jack was able to loosen up, and embrace the softer more feminine side he’d been unable to express while he was at home. The first night that Jill and Jack were able to go out together with Jill in a pantsuit and Jack in a long flowy dress they knew that things were finally where they should have always been. They were happy. Their twinship had never been stronger.
Then it all went to shit and slipped right through their fingers.
They should have seen it coming. There was no way that things could keep going the way they were without any hiccups or a brutal wakeup call.
To celebrate the end of summer, and entering their third year Jack & Jill watched the forecast until it showed that the weather was going to be perfect and they headed out on a camping adventure. They chose a campground that had some native flora that Jill wanted to find for an experiment and had some historical significance for Jack to explore. It was going to be an amazing weekend.
They both thought it would be an excellent way to end their summer vacation and transition into another year slogging through school work. The first night they pitched their tents, got situated and had a campfire with hotdogs and gooey smores.
They woke up bright and early to go to a local historical site for a tour, spent the early afternoon swimming, and just before dinner they decided to hike up a hill near their campsite to see if they could find what Jill needed for her experiment. As they headed out Jill teased Jack about his long flowy peasant skirt and boots. It was highly impractical for climbing a hill and she made sure to let him know it. He just fluffed her off and said it was too hot for pants and he liked the breeze. In hindsight Jill knew she should have insisted that he change into more practical clothing. However, at that moment she didn’t give it a second thought as she had loved seeing Jack so happy and able to express himself.
They climbed the hill with no problems and Jill found what she needed; and they sat on some rocks and shared a snack. It was a beautiful moment that Jill will forever cherish in her memories.
The journey back down the hill is where things went sideways. Somehow Jack’s skirt got caught on the heel of his boot and before Jill knew what was happening Jack started tumbling down the hill. She watched in horror as his body picked up speed and she was left frozen to the spot unable to process what was happening.
After what felt like minutes; but was probably only a few seconds Jill unfroze and chased after her brother hoping that she could somehow stop him. It wasn’t meant to be, and by the time Jill caught up to Jack he was lying crumpled at the bottom of the hill, his head tilted at an unnatural angle and his temple gushing blood from where he had hit his head on a rock.
The next hours and if she was being realistic, days after that were a numb blur. She knew that she raced back to the campsite trying to get reception to get help for Jack, and she also remembered that it took what felt like a lifetime for help to get to Jack. She remembers the frantic rush to the hospital. The horrible realization that she needed to call her parents and let them know. Then their arrival bringing crushing anger and disappointment. The rhythmic beeping of the machines surrounding Jack, and the tubes making him look like a science experiment from the sci-fi horror films they loved to watch together.
Returning to her apartment and seeing it’s sudden bleakness without the light that Jack brought into all spaces. Barely sleeping, drifting, dreaming and seeing the horrific sight of Jack tumbling down the hill. The next few days were a waiting game. Then she could swear that he woke up and told her he loved her before the machine’s rhythmic beeping became a horrifying sustained beep and he was gone. And for the first time in her life Jill felt truly alone, and a part of her soul snuffed out.
In the months after Jack passed away Jill felt like she became a cliched stereotype. Drowning in endless grief. Not sleeping and then sleeping too much. Not eating and spending more time than was healthy curled up in Jack’s bed smelling the perfume he loved, and remembering the nights they would curl up together with ice cream and talk about their future. Jill had never been interested in dating, or meeting anyone. She liked her solitude and they often joked of her becoming a reclusive cat lady.
Jack though. Jack had so many plans that involved finding love and happily ever after. He wanted to become a teacher and find himself a sweet bear of a man to settle down with and have a boatload of babies and a house filled with love, laughter and friends. Everything their childhood home wasn’t.
Jill always joked that Jack was the most basic of bitches that Jill knew, and she loved that about him. She grieved over the fact that she would never get to go to gatherings in his eclectically decorated home. Rock his babies to sleep. Help him pick out his wedding dress and watch him get married to someone who cherished him. There will never be a chance to sit on his back porch drinking craft beer and gossiping about his neighbours and talking shit about their coworkers and parents.
It was all dust now.
Grieving Jack’s loss was made more unbearable with having to deal with their parents. Their mother blamed Jill for what happened to Jack. Insisting that she corrupted him with her godless ways and that his death was punishment for her turning her back on God and tempting her brother to do the same.
Every chance her mother got she berated Jill and spat venom. Their father just watched and took cues from Mother. Never saying anything.
Jill’s mother tried to take over the entire process of planning Jack’s funeral and wake. She was infuriated and full of rage when she found out that Jack had a will and in that will he left instructions that everything was to be left to Jill to decide.
Jill supposed her mother was surprised that a 22 year old would have a will; but she wasn’t. One drunken night after binging Forensic Files they both decided that they needed life insurance and a will. Life was too short and unpredictable. There was no way they could possibly know at the time as to how short it would all be for them.
Even though it horrified and scandalized her mum; Jill made sure that Jack got the best wake and funeral. She made it as much of a celebration as she could. Played cheesy music. Served Jack’s favourite finger foods. Listened while Jack’s friends told stories of his whimsy, intelligence and sweetness.Cried more tears than she thought she could possibly have left after the past few months. Buried him in his favourite dress, the one he wore the first time they went to the bar at the start of school. Gave him a headstone that said beloved brother and friend but no mention of being a son.
Jack would have loved it.
After Jack passed their parents completely cut Jill out of their lives, and she was happy about that. She definitely wasn’t surprised. It was for the best; and Jill knew that it would help her heal to not have to worry about their poisonous influence.
However, Jill had never anticipated how her parents would share the story of Jack’s life and death with their family and the friends in their social circle. While she may not have been in the same city anymore, she still heard trickles and snippets from her cousins.
She heard how her parents completely erased Jack’s joy for dresses, painted nails and perfume. Instead they framed Jack as the hyper masculine man they forced him into as a child, stating that what happened at University was Jill’s influence. That he was trying to keep her happy because she was such a tyrant and always had been. Rejecting God’s love and purpose for her.
Her parents putting Jack back in the box he worked so hard to free himself from filled Jill with rage. It was constantly on her mind as she tried to work through her grief and get her life back on track. Always there in the back of her brain; a slideshow of images from the time before she and Jack left for University. Narrated by Jack’s excited utterances of what their life will be like when they would be free at school. He always had so much more faith in life than Jill did.
In order to fill the gaping wound that was losing Jack, Jill changed her degree focus. She added on a minor in history to honour her brother, taking classes that he would have absolutely loved.
This is how she found herself in a history of fashion course learning about the creation of textiles and later how a very specific shade of green named Scheely or Paris Green was made and the absolutely devastating effects of the arsenic used to make the dye.
The influence this information had one Jill was very minimal at first; but slowly it became a festering obsession. Without Jack there to encourage her to go to therapy and keep the darkness at bay Jill kept free falling into a very dark, and painful hole. Consumed by grief, that was swirling with anger that she was left while Jack – the better of them – was taken, and the all encompassing rage at her parents’ cruelty. It came to a rapid boil that burned through her and made her long for vengeance.
The after school activities that used to be homework, hanging out with Jack, and going on outings with friends became a bleak solitary existence with no socialization outside of school. Not wanting to be completely alone but also not ready for socializing with people, Jill got two cats she named Jolly Jane (J.J.) and Tofana. On her hardest days their companionship made things easier.
Jill turned Jack’s bedroom into a laboratory that she knew he would joke about and say her mad scientist dreams are finally coming true. She even added silly halloween decorations because she knew Jack would approve. Within her laboratory walls time fell away as she plotted and planned. Filling notebooks with thoughts and ideas.
Non experiment surfaces littered with books and journal articles about a specific green dye, and how to apply it to fabrics. Over the last two years of university Jill became the reclusive cat lady that she and her brother always joked about. She split her time between school work, her laboratory and taking comfort in the healing purrs of J.J. and Tofana. She haunted the university campus; but was rarely seen anywhere else. Preferring to have her groceries and supplies delivered right to their apartment rather than having to spend precious time shopping.
However, she did take several road trips out of state, under an assumed name to acquire certain chemistry supplies and needs. Making sure that none of it could be tied back to her. Her late night Forensic Files binging sessions with Jack made her very aware of how even the most careful criminal could get caught. Because of this she did her very best to mitigate the risk of her current endeavour.
After much trial and error Jill was able to successfully make fabric dyed with the special green dye. She did her best to keep herself safe during her experiments; glad that she lived in a time where playing with poisons was not as much of a risk as it was in yesteryears. She thought the green colour was pretty and poetic and now that the finish line was so close she was ready to have it all finished.
Even though Jill resented the binaries her mother pushed her into as a child; she was glad that she was forced to become an accomplished seamstress due to years of learning from her mum and taking classes. With care and consideration on getting the most out of her fabric she was able to make 3 garments: a dress, a skirt, and a dress shirt. She added each item to one of the three garbage bags full of clothes she herself had thrifted over the last two years.
Making sure that her garments were carefully placed in the middle of the bag to make it hopefully less suspicious. Jill was relieved with the knowledge that the thrift stores never washed anything; just sprayed with fabric refresher before putting them on the racks for people to purchase.
Jill waited for the annual Spring drive her mum organized to get people to donate to one of the three church thrift stores she ran as part of what she saw as her duties to the community. Helping not out of kindness; but out of a need to be seen as a respectable Christian woman by the city she lived in. Jill’s mother had her dirty hands in so many pies preaching Christian respectability and living by none of Jesus’ teachings.
On the week of the annual Spring drive Jill went every other day to drop off a bag of clothes at one of the 3 locations. Keeping her appearance shielded and her actions as unobtrusive as possible so as not to draw suspicion. She didn’t believe anyone would recognize her. Unlike Jack’s vivacious personality that drew people to him; she always preferred to stay in the shadows. Jack would have been recognized in an instant whereas she went completely unnoticed.
After she left the bags Jill waited for news and prepared for graduation. She knew she should feel guilty for what was about to happen to innocent strangers, who were probably victims in their own right – but she didn’t. For Jill it was a means to an end, a necessary step in order for her to find peace. At Least she hoped so, that is what she had been telling herself for the past two years as the grief, rage and anger continued to burn bright inside her. Sharp and full of a need to consume.
A few days after graduation when Jill was searching the internet for local news – she saw it. The first death – a mystery. No one knew what happened. Then a week or so later the second death, and an increasing sense of panic. By the third and fourth death the city was frantic to figure out what happened; and people were scared.
While Jill didn’t have much faith in the police, she was impressed that it only took them a few months to find the connection. She obsessively read and watched interviews from local news with her mother. Seeing her mothers beautiful put together face becoming more and more haggard as investigations into the thrift stores she helped to run ramped up. While it did not bring the peace she wanted, it did soothe Jill to see her self righteous mother being raked over the coals in the news. Not only did they find out about the poisonous garments that made their way into her store; they also uncovered some shady business practices by the Church and her mother.
The ruining of her mother that played out over a couple of months was as delicious as Jill had hoped. Despite her background in, and obsession with chemistry her mother never suspected her, no one did. The mystery would never be solved. In time it would just be known as a bizarre mystery in that city’s lore. Over the years people would put on their metaphorical deerstalker cap and give it a try. But no one ever came close. They just learned about the ruining of a good Christian woman at the hands of this scandal who had recently lost her son; but no one ever mentioned his twin sister. Jill was a ghost.
Even though her plan for vengeance was not as fulfilling as she had hoped, and maybe she always knew that it wouldn’t be. She didn’t regret it. In her mind it was what needed to be done to repay all the trauma and sadness that made up her childhood. That stifled Jack’s light for the majority of his life; only allowing a few short years for him to really shine.
Having graduated and with no desire to continue her education Jill packed up herself and her two cats and moved several states away to live in an off grid cabin she had built. It’s location and layout were everything she had always dreamed about, and passionately shared with Jack in their late night gab sessions.
He may have wanted a loud and vibrant life; but she wanted solitude and quiet. In her own cozy oasis Jill carved out a life for herself. The grief of losing Jack never went away; but the sharp edges that would rip open her insides became softer.
She cultivated a garden for his memory with vibrant blooms, and sweet fragrances. At the foot of the garden bed she had placed two chairs, one for her and one for Jack and on the days when the pain was almost unbearable she would sit in one chair, sipping beer and talking to Jack.
In the decade that followed she lived a happy life making potions and lotions that she sold on the internet and went on long reflective walks through the forest with J.J. and Tofana trailing her and creating their own mischief and making her laugh. Next to Jack, her cats were the only other relationships she had. She embraced the cat lady life and spoiled them as much as she could.
But eventually; death comes to reap and Tofana passed first, and J.J. followed not long after. Jill understood, she knew it was hell to live with a part of your soul missing.
One gorgeous sunny summer day so much like the one that had changed Jill’s life she finished brewing a potion she had been working on for a week. The ingredients came from the other garden she cultivated full of dark things and everything Jack was not and she was. She poured the potion into a vial and walked to the edge of the lake that sat in front of her house. She slipped off her shoes, and picked up some of the beautiful stones that lined the shore and put them into her pockets. Walking into the water she relished in the chill of the water, the sand squishing beneath her toes and the sun shining on her face. When she was almost waist deep she took out her vial, uncorked it, and consumed the contents and then continued to walk into the lake until it covered her head.
She was ready to see Jack again, she had missed him so.