Jonathon’s house on 5th Street looked a bit squished, and it could have used a paint job, but it was still nice. I walked up to the front door and knocked sharply. After a minute or so I knocked again, louder this time.
“I guess he isn’t home.” Mel said.
I turned away, disappointed. We were halfway down the street when we heard someone open the door. I quickly jogged back to greet him.
Jonathon had sharp features and dark hair, with bright blue eyes that regarded us sternly.
“Hi!” I said breathlessly as I ran back up to the door.
“What do you want?” He asked, wedging himself in the doorway as if to block us from coming in.
“Are you Jonathon Ledwell?” I asked.
He nodded warily. “So what if I am?”
“Hello Mr. Ledwell,” I began, sticking out my hand for him to shake. “I’m James Alander’s daughter, I’m a fellow Cutter.”
He ignored my hand and looked at me dubiously. “Aren’t you a bit young?” He asked. “And how come I haven’t seen you before.”
“I just finished training.” I replied. “You haven’t been at the Center since I started.”
Mel, meanwhile, was looking back and forth between us, bewildered. “Wait a minute, you’re a Cutter?” She asked me.
I nodded. I had forgotten she didn’t know anything about me or why I was asking around for random Cutters.
“And you didn’t think to tell me this?” She said accusingly. “After I go along with you on a wild chase around the town and invite you into me home?”
I flinched. “It’s not like you told me anything about you!” I snapped back.
She opened her mouth to reply when Jonathon interrupted. “As entertaining as this is, if it doesn’t concern me I think I’d better get going.” He started to close the door.
“No, wait!” I yelled desperately, sticking my foot in the door. “I’m sorry, this does concern you.” He continued to look at me blankly. “Can I come in?” I asked.
He sighed. “You can have five minutes to explain why you need to talk to me, and you had better not be just a thief in disguise.”
“Thank you sir!” I said gratefully, squeezing myself through the door. He walked over to the table and sat down, not watching to see if I was following.
I looked back at Mel, but she was standing in the street, glaring at me with her arms crossed, so I closed the door and sat down.
“So.” Jonathon began. “Five minutes.”
“I heard from Mr. Hillington-Fredrick, that you liked to study different ways of Cutting.” I started.
Jonathon sighed. “Let me guess. He has sent you to stop me.”
“No, not at all,” I replied. “About a week ago my younger brother, Darren, died.” I tried to speak calmly, but my voice broke at the memory of Darren’s death. I cleared my throat and wiped away my tears. “I was assigned with Cutting him,” I continued, my voice steady. “I was wondering whether you might know some way that people can be cut without their memories being lost.”
“If there was wouldn’t we already be using it?” Jonathon asked.
“Not if the other Cutters, if Mr. Sallon, were afraid. I came here because it was the original “Cutting town”, and you may have came here for the same reason.”
He was quiet for a moment. Then he stood and walked down the hall, into a room. I could still here his voice floating down the hallway. “You’re right. I have been doing some research.”
“And did it work?” I asked.
He returned, carrying a thin folder and placing it on the table in front of me. “This is what I’ve found.” He said.
I leaned forward and flipped open the cover. The pages inside were covered with rows of neat handwriting, with diagrams, arrows, and scribbles filling up the space.
The soul-string is obviously the problem here, was the first line. I assumed that this would be some sort of journal to himself, and I wondered briefly whether he had ever meant for anyone else to read it.
The process of cutting the soul-string is necessary to sever the life from this world to the Otherworld, but it also contains the memories of this person. What if there was a way we could separate the memory-line from the soul-string?
I inhaled sharply, and kept reading, my head spinning with possibilities. Jonathon had proceeded to outline conversations and interviews with people, passages from books, and his own revelations. I was so caught up in it I didn’t realize that Mel had come in and was standing at my elbow until she cleared her throat.
“Can we go?” she asked me.
“Oh!” I looked up at Jonathon. “I’m not done yet but…”
“Oh, just take it!” He said. “Bring it back to me tomorrow, in the meantime I’m going to check with Mr. Sallon to see whether you are who you say you are.” He peered at me suspiciously. “I assume he doesn’t know what you’re doing?”
I blushed. “No, sir.”
“Join the club.” Mel muttered under her breath.
Jonathon smirked. “Very well. I won’t tell him. Mr. Sallon is not overly approving of my ideas.”
Mel and I stood to leave. “One last thing, sir,” I began. “It’s about Dan Parson. Did you know him?”
Jonathon nodded. “Yes. Why? Are you looking into the Barry Dunhill incident?”
“No. I mean, yes, I suppose so.” I replied. “Do you think he was guilty of actually helping Dunhill escape?”
“Never.” Jonathon replied adamantly. “Dan’s one of the best men I know. I don’t know why John turned him in.” He sighed. “That’d be Mr. Teller to you I suppose. I never liked that man.”
Beside me, Mel squirmed uncomfortably. I made a not to ask her about it later.
“Mr. Teller always seemed pleasant to me!” I said, surprised.
“He’s always been shifty. Suspicious. Fredrick thinks he’s wonderful, of course, and he puts up a good front, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”
We said our goodbyes and Mel and I began to walk back to her house. We walked in silence for a while, the only sound being the ring of our footsteps on the cobblestones. The town was quiet, and Goosebumps rose up on my arms. I nervously rehearsed what I would say to Mel in my head, but she broke the silence first.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were a Cutter?” She asked. She turned and looked at me.
A worm of panic twisted in my stomach. If Mel didn’t let me stay at her house I wasn’t sure what I would do. Brutehaven didn’t seem like a very trustworthy place, and I doubted Jonathon would be very happy if I asked to stay with him.
“Well?” Mel said.
I sighed. “Like I said. You didn’t tell me much either, and you just told me the story about how going around advertising she was a Cutter got your mother killed.” I regretted the words as soon as I said them.
We walked a little farther in silence. “I’m sorry.” I said quietly.
She sighed. “No, you’re right. I just have had bad experiences with people keeping secrets from me.”
I didn’t press the subject.
“Anyhow!” she said. “Are you going to tell me what you and that Cutter were talking about?”
I smiled, relieved that I hadn’t lost my new friend. “My brother died about a weeks ago, and I was assigned to cut him.” My voice broke and I took a deep breath to stop myself from crying.”
“I’m sorry.” Mel said.
“I couldn’t bear to bring myself to cut him,” I continued, ignoring Mel’s shocked look. “I figured that because this was where the cutting process was originally created there might be clues to another way of cutting.”
“You mean without forgetting.” Mel said.
I nodded. “When you mentioned the name Jonathon Ledwell I remembered Mr. Hillington (my trainer), talking about a cutter named Jonathon Ledwell. He said that he was always leaving and coming back with strange ideas about Cutting.”
Mel nodded along. “But how did you know his address?” She asked me.
“When I first came to the city,” I continued, “I found a book in the mattress of my bed. The inscription was to Mr. Ledwell, complete with his address. I didn’t think much of it until today.”
Mel looked at me in amazement. “How do you remember that?”
I shrugged, embarrassed. “I guess I just have a good memory.”
“It’s stellar!” She exclaimed. “No wonder my father liked you!” A panicked look came over her face. “I mean, my father would probably like you if he me you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, bewildered. “When did I meet your father?”
“You didn’t.” she replied. “I misspoke, is all.”
I wasn’t convinced, but we had arrived at the house and Mel was busy unlocking the door. I wracked my brain trying to think of who her father might be. I thought I recognized her eyes from somewhere! Or maybe I was just imagining it.
“You going to come inside?” Mel called from the kitchen.
I followed her in, wiping my shoes on the rug. “Hey, Mel?”
“Yeah?” She appeared to be making dinner, but all I could see was her back and a large jar in her hands, which she was struggling to open. “Why did you seem uncomfortable when Mr. Ledwell was talking about Mr. Sallon trusting Mr. Teller?”
She froze, dropping the butter knife she was using to pry off the lid of the jar.
I was getting closer to the answer! Excited, my mind raced, trying to figure out the connection.
“Of course!” I exclaimed. “It’s so obvious!”
Mel turned slowly, a look of panic still on her face.
“Mr. Sallon is your father!” I said.
I saw her shoulders sag in relief and she smiled. “No, I assure you, Mr. Sallon is not my father!”
I got the sense she was telling the truth, but the answer was on the tip of my tongue. She picked up the knife and successfully pried off the lid of the jar. She smiled triumphantly.
“Ready for noodles?” She asked.