“We Know Nothing” Horror by Mali Schaeffer

"We Know Nothing" Horror by Mali Schaeffer:  Mali Schaeffer is a student of the UCLA Writers' Program. She lives and writes in San Francisco, although she spends most of her time imagining other worlds entirely. Her work has been nominated for the James Kirkwood Literary Prize.

When their teachers call our homes, reporting absences and erratic behavior, we tell them we know nothing.

We don’t tell them about the relief we felt, the collective exhale we sighed, when our daughters began to show an interest in that singing show. Any mother would prefer it to the sort of reality TV where scantily clad women compete for male attention, the only kind of reality TV that seemed to be on those days. In fact, we were so relieved that their interest was piqued by something so wholesome, so normal, that we even encouraged them to watch it, taking turns hosting view-parties, providing them snacks and beverages, letting them stay up late and sleep through their morning classes. When our daughters began to idolize Marcella, the soulful contestant who wore cardigans and long skirts, with messy, braided hair and eyes so light that, through the TV, it looked like she had only pupils, we thought it was nice that they had a modestly dressed, talented, and naturally beautiful woman to look up to. 

When the police come knocking on our doors, their uniforms freshly pressed, smelling of both starch and mildew, we tell them we know nothing.

We don’t tell them that the song, Marcella’s song, was catchy. It was so catchy that we would find ourselves humming it as we did the dishes, as we bought the groceries. A touch of magic, my sweet divine, oh darling, I’ll make you mine. We don’t tell them that, as much as our daughters enjoyed the show, we enjoyed it too, stealing glances at the television above their heads, eagerly watching Marcella enchant the judges with her deep voice, night after night after night. 

When our neighbors gossip in grocery lines, whispering what they’d heard second- and third-hand, and look at us, expectantly, to contribute, we tell them we know nothing.

We don’t tell them how our daughters’ idealization soon grew to obsession, and we smiled, remembering what it was like to be teenage girls and to feel a part of something. When they stopped straightening their hair and chose instead to wear it loose, with intricately woven braids peeking through their ringlets, the way Marcella wore hers, we thought it was lovely that they were wearing their hair natural, that they had stopped bleaching it to try to look like whichever celebrity was frequenting the covers of the tabloids those days. We even helped them braid the back of their heads, those tricky areas they couldn’t reach. 

When the reporter from the local newspaper approaches us for an interview, begging for a quote to use in her piece, asking us questions about corpses with bite marks and empty eye sockets, we tell her we know nothing.

We don’t tell her that, when our daughters threw away their denim shorts and crop tops, we were the ones who bought them long, silk skirts, in the same shade of baby blue that Marcella wore each night. They started covering their shoulders with scarfs and cardigans, leaving only the skin on their faces exposed, and we thought it was wonderful that their role model was so modestly dressed. 

When the detective from out of town meets us at the station, showing us photographs of what remained of the sixteen men from the next county over, demanding to know what we know, we tell him we know nothing.

We don’t tell him that, not long after the show ended, our daughters’ eyes started fading, first to a sandy brown, then to an ashen gray, then finally to a hue so light that the whites and the irises were muddled together, indistinguishable. And when they looked at us, with those pale eyes, and told us to take them away from the city, to drive them to the mountains, that they were going to meet Marcella, that she would be waiting for them, we packed them overnight bags and sandwiches. We thought it was good that they were seeing more of the world. 

And when the victims’ families appear on the news, begging anyone who knows anything to come forward, to do right, to bring the monsters who did this to justice, we change the channel, back to re-runs of that old singing show, that old star, what was her name again? Marcy? Marsha? Marcella— that’s it. Whatever happened to her, anyway? 

Watching her sing feels like recalling a dream we had, a long time ago. She reminds us of something so familiar, like a word we can’t place, or a nostalgic scent from a childhood memory that always seems just out of reach. We’d always dreamed of having daughters one day, and if we had, wouldn’t we want them to be just like her? Modestly dressed, talented, and so naturally beautiful.

Mali Schaeffer is a student of the UCLA Writers’ Program. She lives and writes in San Francisco, although she spends most of her time imagining other worlds entirely. Her work has been nominated for the James Kirkwood Literary Prize.

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