Apr 21

The Dress

The dress was white, with streaks of scarlet running down the bodice into a thick vermilion waistband. The skirt fanned out in waves, gold embroidery at the hem. Lily had bragged about it for days before her birthday, and when we arrived at her sleepover party, the heart of every girl in the room shriveled with jealousy. The envy soon smoothed over, and the party was a great success, and when we went to sleep around 2 AM, everyone was perfectly content. Vivian was the first to wake the next morning. Her first screams barely penetrated my slumber, but soon we were all groggily staring at her as she pointed to the shattered window. "What happened!" Lily's mother burst into the room and caught sight of the window, where we were pointing. Lily hung in the oak tree just outside, cradled almost tenderly in the thin branches. She was still wearing the dress, now soaked with blood. Her mother wavered in the doorway, like a leaf caught in a storm, then crumpled to the rug. I don't remember what followed, only that I was frozen, looking into Lily's blue eyes that stared back as though they could still see. The police investigated, and came up with a verdict of murder, but they didn't question anyone apart from those of us who were there at the party. No one understood how someone could have stabbed her while she was up in the tree, let alone how they broke the window and carried her up the tree so silently.
After a month the community still searched for clues, but we all tried to put it behind us in preparation for the annual fall festival. I'd been scheduled to bake seven of the pumpkin pies, so I was hard at work in the kitchen when Vivian was dropped off the night of the dance. She was grinning for the first time since Lily's death, and the moment I opened the door she burst into my arms, swinging a shopping bag over her wrist. " You won't believe the dress that I found for the dance. It was a real bargain and it fits like a glove," she gushed. I couldn't help gasping as she pulled it from the bag. It shimmered in the sunset, minty green silk covered in black french lace. A ruffled lace collar gave it an antique look, which was accentuated by the pearls that decorated the skirt. Once the pies were finished, we dressed and headed out. Everyone stared either at Vivian's dress or the elated smile that she wore as we walked, and once we reached the dance, she brightened the whole room with her smile alone.
The detectives called early the next morning. Vivian hadn't come home, and no one had seen where she had gone after the dance. I was interviewed again, but this time we didn't even know she was dead until two days later, when they found her by the stream in the woods. The whole town reeled with shock, when it became clear that although something had cut her throat, there were no clues as to who was the culprit, and everyone was advised to be on high alert. All gatherings were postponed, and we weren't allowed to leave our houses an hour before sunset.
A week later, as I was walking around town, a newspaper in the street caught my attention. It wasn't from any of the neighboring towns, and I didn't recognize the banner, but the picture struck me as familiar. A girl in a blue dress stood near a window, smiling with all her heart at the camera. Butterflies were embroidered in gold all over the skirt and collar, and the skirt seemed to flutter like tulle. I'd never seen the girl before, and nothing in the scene rang a bell, but then my eyes read the headline for the first time. "Governor's Daughter Found Dead" the title boomed. As I read the story, a chill that had nothing to do with the wind slid down my back. The girl, Alicia, her name was, had been off to her senior prom with some friends. She'd dropped them off afterward, then headed home. The police found her car stopped by the side of the road the next day. The body was covered in horrible burns all over, but the car doors were locked and it didn't even have a scratch.
I locked myself in my room for the rest of the day. I'd clipped Vivian and Lily's obituaries out of the paper, and now Alicia joined them. As I looked closer at the photos taken mere hours before their deaths, I couldn't understand it. They had been killed in different ways and in different places, Alicia was from Nevada, and yet there was something that connected them, I could feel it. I became sleepy, and the gold butterflies seemed to move on Alicia's dress. Suddenly my brain knew. I remembered Lily spinning, the gold on the hem of her dress glinting, and a space on Vivian's skirt where the pearls seemed to have a gold light behind them. As I scrutinized the butterfly pattern, a line of stitching caught my eye. The gold didn't fit in with the butterflies, but after close analysis, I found that it matched Lily's. Grabbing my laptop, I started searching.
Over the next few months I hunted frantically, tracking the mysterious pattern. Some girls had been burned or stabbed, but often the stories were much more sinister. One girl had dozens of bee stings that matched perfectly with the pattern on her dress, while another had been strangled without a mark on her neck, but in a dress with a high tight neckline. I found over 40 girls in a month, and when Winter Vacation rolled around, I searched with even more vigor. One of the strangest things was that the cases were always at least two months apart from one another, and spanned over centuries. I'd even found a painting from the 1500's with the same pattern stitched in gold on the hem.
 All this time I'd been confused about what the pattern signified, but the painting opened up an even more complex option. As I looked closer at the photos, the embroidery looked more and more like writing, until finally I zoomed in close enough to read a portion of it. I'd taken Latin for a few years, and I remembered enough to roughly translate the visible portion. Simplified, it wished a painful death to whomever wore the dress, added to a reincarnation spell that would make it completely unrecognizable. As it specified in minuscule cursive, more details loomed in my memory. I recalled the way Vivian's throat had been cut right on the line of her collar, and the striped on Lily's dress that matched the cuts on her body. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't witnessed two killings personally, but it seemed far fetched until I read a news story about a killing in Michigan where the victim was found drowned in mud, but the dress that she wore was as fresh and new as ever. Finally, I had enough evidence to reveal it to my parents and hope that they believed me. It was June, a week before school ended, and I'd resolved to share what I knew at dinner that night. I still had no idea who'd cast the curse originally, but I was pretty sure that the reincarnation only occurred when someone died wearing the dress, so if we could find it, it could be cut apart and burned.
Meanwhile, my sister Elaine had noticed my preoccupation with something, and had decided that a trip to the mall would do me a world of good. As we stepped into our third shop, I suddenly felt a pull on my mind. I turned, and there it was. It was pure black, with a high collar and gold highlights on the sleeves and the hem. An otherworldly glow seemed to surround the whole thing. My mind shouted a warning, but I barely heard, and I pushed all distracting thoughts away. As I walked forward, I heard Elaine exclaim, "Oh that's so pretty!" And the moment I touched the silky fabric, I knew it was perfect.