Sunday, July 17, 2011
The crickets sang a pleasant tune against the harmonies of croaking frogs on a lonely hilltop in the wayward town of Twinbrook, Simissouri. The sound seemed to echo in the depths of the quiet home of the Kanes, who'd made quite a deal of opening every window the evening before to try to fight the murky heat indoors; night was the only time everything didn't feel as if it was dripping with sweat, this time of year.
But in one case, the sweating didn't cease even with the noisy nighttime breeze. Her pillow stained and her sheets wrapped around her like a cocoon, Margo Kane laid in a very restless sleep. She tossed one way, then the other, then back again--her mouth going a mile a minute with inaudible, horrified whispers.
The wind whistled through the crack in her window; the glass shuddered. Margo gasped.
"H... hello?" Margo whimpered, but there was no response--save that whistling. "I-is anybody there?"
It was darkness, everywhere. A dense fog hovered around her, going up so high that all she could see was the dim twinkle of stars millions of miles above her; below, she felt a something snap and crunch under the soles of her feet. Bones. She swallowed, trying not to panic, but her heart was already racing.
"S-somebody?!" Margo cried--and this time, something did answer.
"Why hello there, little Margo," a woman said to her left, large and disfigured and covered with tubes of all shape and size; and in her eyes, a look of pure hunger.
"M-m-mom?!" How could this be?! What had happened to her! Only a moment later, though, another figure came from the other side; he had the head of a man, but below, a black metal body that whirred and creaked as he slowly creeped towards her.
"Join us, Margo," her father moaned in a voice more hiss than words. Margo, terrified beyond her own comprehension, attempted to back away, but every step was matched by the monsters wearing her parents' faces.
She was gripped so much by fear that it took every ounce of life within her to squeeze out a plead for mercy, but even that sounded more like a squeal than words. "P-please! Please, go away!!"
As she cowered, hands over her head and tears streaming down her face, the monsters slowly began to fade away--but only so they could be replaced by something else. Something worse. Margo could feel all hope suddenly draining out of her.
"Just wait, little Margo... I'll add you to my collection, yet! Someday, you'll be mine!"
"Well, it was actually on--the light bulb just burned out. We'll have to be more careful about that in the future."
"Alesha..." Brad paused, hesitant. "I think we need to consider taking her to see the doctor."
"I think... I think she might be having night terrors."
"Night terrors?" Alesha glanced through the doors into the dining room, cautiously making sure that Margo couldn't hear her. "I don't know, Brad. Even if they are... What can they do, put her on drugs? She's too young for that. If this keeps happening once she starts school, I'll try and get her in with one of our counselors, but... I just don't know, Brad. Maybe you should just, you know, talk to her."
Brad gave a grumpy sigh, but he knew it was worth giving a try. Without another word, he nodded to himself and went into the dining room, and sat down next to his daughter.
"How are you feeling, Margo?" he asked, trying to get her to look up.
She didn't. "I'm okay." Margo woefully gave her cereal another stir, then took another bite so unthoughtfully that a dribble of milk escaped down her chin, unnoticed.
"Would you like to talk? About this morning?" As clumsy as his question was, the noiseless shake of her head was even moreso. Brad frowned; this sort of thing was never easy.
See, Bradley's daughters meant the world to him. In fact, living in a household surrounded by four women never troubled him much; they were his girls, and he never spent one moment of his life wishing for a son. Unfortuantely, though, it left him at a bit of a disadvantage; as much as they loved him, he just wasn't as relatable, nor as comforting. It didn't help he spent most of his day around a group of scientists constantly analyzing and problem-solving; he'd lost his ability to be comforting a long time ago, if he'd ever even had it. His family knew that, and it made everything a bit... awkward.
Outside, Alesha was fighting a battle of her own.
"Liiiillllll! LILOBOT! Are you alive in there?!" At this point, Alesha was tempted to call the girl's cell phone; she really didn't have time for this, this morning. When Lil had first started nannying for the Kanes, her residence in the room above the garage had seemed like a smart idea, but lately it had just become cumbersome.
"I'll be there in just a second, Mrs. Kane!" called a peppy voice from the garage.
She better, Alesha groaned.
As Alesha was coming back inside, Brad was retreating from the kitchen, just a white flag short of a surrender. "What happened?" she asked, resting her hand on her husband's shoulder.
"It's no use. She won't talk to me about it," Brad sighed into his hands. "I just--I just don't know what I'm supposed to do, Alesha." Those weren't words that Alesha heard from her husband often.
"I'll talk to her then, sweetie," Alesha said softly as she gave a look back towards the dining room. "She might open up to me. It's not your fault though, Brad--these types of things are just... sensitive."
As they headed towards the front door, Brad nodded in disgruntled agreement and grabbed his briefcase from beside the door.
"Just try and have a good day at work today, alright, honey?" Alesha stood up on her tiptoes and snuck a kiss onto her husband's lips.
"I will, I will--you, too!" Bradley smiled as her lips met his. "You know, I could be late, this morning..."
Alesha giggled and rolled her eyes. "Oh just shut up and go, already!"
Alesha waited on the front step only long enough to wave her husband goodbye as he climbed into his car; normally she'd wave him off, but she didn't have time.
"There you are!" Alesha exclaimed as Lil cheerily walked into the house through the side door. "I was beginning to think you'd shorted out again!" She knew that wasn't the case, though. Lil was waking up later and later every day, for reasons Alesha couldn't understand because Lil would never explain. Lilobot was a robot, and robot's were supposed to be reliable and timely; these days though, Lil was anything but.
"I'm sorry ma'am! I just didn't get plugged in until really late last night--it won't happen again!"
Alesha scowled in disbelief. "Well, I hope it doesn't--I'm already running late this morning, and Korva's going to wake up any... second."
"Speak of the devil," Alesha mused as a sudden screaming erupted from the nursery. "Good luck."
Lilobot's little metal face fell as she heard it, and the small pat that Alesha gave on her shoulder was little comfort. "Thanks," she murmured anyways.
"Liiiilllyyyyyyy... Liillyy where my baaannnaaaaaaaa nnaaaaaaa naaaaaaa!"
"Well hellooooo there, precious!" Lilobot said cutely as she walked into the room; the crying ceased immediately.
It was all a show for this one. In comparison, Margo had been an angel; she had barely even whimpered when something was wrong, for the most part, whereas Korey was about as manipulative as little children come. She would probably never learn to take no for an answer.
"Naa naaa," Korey said, giving the crib edge a little rattle. "Naa naa!" And so it began.
Finally, Alesha moaned to herself as she climbed into the shower. A moment to myself...
Especially with her job--a teacher--Alesha had learned to appreciate every moment of quiet she got. They were few and far between, and with Margo's nightmares coming earlier and earlier every night, Margo wasn't the only one losing precious sleep and time.
How is this going to work once she starts school, though? Alesha wondered as she let the water stream against her face. And that's only in a few days... Am I going to have to put her to sleep earlier? No, I don't want the kids to have another thing to bother her about--ugh, and Margo still hasn't even tried to make any friends yet! What am I going to do with that child...
Alesha certainly didn't have the time to figure it out, this morning. She was supposed to have been at the school ten minutes ago.
This definitely wasn't helping her rush any, either. "What the--Lil, I thought I told you to take care of this mess!" She started digging through the papers on the coffee table, trying to find the ones she needed to bring in.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Kane--I'll take care of it as soon as Korey's eaten!" Lil called from the kitchen over top of Korva's frantic wails.
"Look, Lil--" Alesha approached her, trying to ignore Korey's cry for attention. "I'm sorry if I sound short, this morning has just been... rough. I just really, really need you to get on top of things, today, alright?"
"It's no problem, Mrs. Kane, I understand!"
"Mmm--good. Well, I need to get going--say, have you seen where Margo ran off to?"
"She's outside," Lil responded perkily, giving a bit of a nod towards the window. "Saw her on my way in!"
"Thanks--and actually, if you wouldn't mind, could you take the kids to the park this afternoon? Margo really needs to spend some time around some kids her own age before school starts next week, and Korey cooperates better when she's outside, anywa--"
"Mrs. Kane, that sounds like a fantastic idea," Lil wheezed in a little mechanical, hopeful sigh.
Once Alesha disappeared, Lil was finally able to calm Korey a little. "Here you go, sweetums! Banana, your favorite!"
"NO!" The bowl went right over the edge, spilling it's contents everywhere.
"But... But that's what you wanted!" Lil pleaded, uselessly.
This was going to be a long, long day.
"Well there you are! I've been looking all over for you!" Alesha put on a smile as she sidled up behind Margo, who was sitting on the grass, staring up at the empty sky. "Seen anything interesting, today?'
"No," Margo responded in a low voice between the sounds of her fingers carefully plucking up the grass below her feet.
Frowning, Alesha dropped down onto the ground behind her. "Margo, sweetheart... Why don't you tell me about your nightmare, mm? I'll forget about it right away, if you want me to." Alesha reached up and gently caressed a few wayward hairs on her daughter's head, gently pushing them out of her eyes. "Please?"
Margo remained hesitant for a moment, but after she dropped a handful of broken grass to the ground, she began whispering as she stared off into the distance. "It was her again, Mummie."
"The lady with the blue eyes?"
"Yeah. She made you and daddy monsters. I think she was gonna make me one, too."
There was a brief pause, where Alesha contemplated what to say, but Margo continued before she could. "I know she's gone, and that she'll never come back, but I'm still scared, Mom."
"We all are, honey. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Just remember, your Dad and I are here to protect you--no matter what. Okay?"
Alesha smiled and continued. "Pretty soon, though, you're gonna forget aaaalll about her. You start school next week, and you're going to make all kinds of friends... Maybe you'll even meet some when Lil takes you guys to the park, later!"
"Maybe," Margo mumbled quietly.
"And then when I come home from work, we can read that one story you love--what's it called, the one where everyone is purple and green and blue--"
"Lost in Sugar Valley?"
"Yeah! Or the ones about Jimmy Sprocket, or Princess Raplunzel--you name it!"
Margo looked up at Lil, then out at the playground in disbelief; she honestly expected her to go just... play with someone? Didn't she realize how ridiculous that sounded?
"C-can't I just stay with you?" Margo stammered, clinging fiercely to Lilobot's cold metal hand.
"Nope--we're going to do boring baby stuff. You don't want to do that, do you?"
For a moment, Margo felt oddly compelled to say 'Yes, yes, please yes', but realizing that Lil would probably just laugh at her answer, she gulped down her fear and slowly lessened her grip on Lil's fingers.
"C'mon--why don't you go play in the sandbox! Build something with someone! You'll be fine, squidge--and I'll be just over here!" Lilobot smiled, patted her head gently, and walked away. Just great.
Every step towards the sandbox felt like a step towards doom, but at Lilobot's insistence she decided that was probably the easiest place to avoid eye contact with anyone as well as avoid climbing up onto anything too tall and full of splinters. That and most people were equally bad at building sand sculptures. She had little to fear, there--except sand creatures. Yeah. Sand creatures were very bad.
Margo was standing, contemplating the probability of there being a sinking hole somewhere in the sandbox when the girl nearest to the edge let out a large "Pwaaaaaaaaaa!" and made a mess of her sand everywhere, distracting Margo from her train of thought.
She was just starting to make her escape when the girl said something again--this time, directed at her. "Oh I'm sorry, I didn't get any on you, did I?"
"N... nn..." Margo bit her fingertips and scooted her foot a little further away.
"I didn't? That's good! I was just kinna in my own world there, I dinnit see you come up."
Margo managed to fake a smile out of the corner of her lips, but clearly, she was not getting out of this that easy. The girl just kept getting closer and closer. Well, it could be worse--at least there was only one of her.
"My name is Kenzie!" she said excitedly, apparently not noticing her acquaintance trying to inch away. "What's yours?"
"M.. M... Margo." This time, she actually managed to get the whole word out audibly.
"Aww, well nice ta meetcha Margo! I was just about to go play hopscotch, wanna partner up with me?"
"Uh... Uh." Margo panicked; she might be able to handle a sandbox, but hopscotch? This was a disaster waiting to happen. Still, there was something oddly convincing and trusting about the girl, and the smile she gave seemed genuine.
With an uneasy nod, Margo finally said: "Sure."
Luckily, it didn't take long for Margo to discover that Kenzie wasn't exactly some expert at hopscotch, herself.
"Aw maaan, I always miss the first one!" Kenzie grumbled as she looked down at her feet, and the pebble sitting on the number next to it. "Here, it's your turn!"
Margo giggles quickly stopped when Kenzie handed over the pebble to toss on the board. She was so nervous she could feel her teeth chattering against her tongue, but swallowing her pride, she took a courageous step forward towards the board.
She tossed it quickly, and then began hopping-- 1 foot, 2 feet, 1 foot -- but as she jumped the third time, her toe hit a stray rock on the board and sent her tumbling forwards.
"OH NO! Margo, are you alright?!"
Margo quickly stood up, trying not to burst into tears--over both her scraped elbows and her complete embarrassment--but she wasn't going to have much luck holding back, today. Not with who was waiting around the corner.
"Still haven't learned how to walk, huh Margo?" The two girls looked up to see a boy's face, laughing as he lifted a finger and pointed it at Margo's fumble. "At least your metal mouth was there to break your fall!"
"Iaaannn," Margo began to cry. "Go awwaaayyy..."
"See what a crybaby she is?" Ian smirked, turning his eyes to Kenzie. "She is the last person you should be hanging out with! I hear she still wets the bed--you should get away from her while you still can!"
"And who says I care what you think, you stupid-face!! Yer nuthin but a no-good, rotten bully!"
"So?" Ian rolled his eyes. "At least I'm not a coward!"
"You are more than you think you are!"
"Psh, whatever." Ian took a deep sigh, before he started to turn and walk away. "Fine, keep your little friend. You two are perfect for each other... Four-Eyes and Metal Mouth. See ya later, dorks."
Margo thought Kenzie looked like she was going to chase after him and pummel him, but her better instincts took over before then; instead, she took a deep breath, and turned around.
"You alright?" Kenzie asked, gently putting her hands on the sides of Margo's arms.
"Yeah... I th-think so," Margo said slowly, still watching Ian retreat outta the corner of her eyes. "That... That was super brave."
"Well, nobody should be ever talked to like that. He's nothin but a big meanie! Yer much better than him."